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Academy Apologizes to Sacheen Littlefeather for Her Mistreatment at the 1973 Oscars (Exclusive) – Hollywood Reporter

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Almost 50 years after struggling harassment and discrimination for protesting Native American mistreatment, the activist would be the visitor of honor at a night of therapeutic and Indigenous celebration hosted by the Academy Museum on Sept. 17.
By Rebecca Sun
Senior Editor, Range & Inclusion
The primary time Sacheen Littlefeather encountered the Academy, in 1973, she was booed onstage on the Oscars, heckled with mock ululations and so-called “tomahawk chops” offstage, and threatened with arrest and bodily assault.
Almost half a century later, she’s going to return to the Academy as an invited visitor of honor for a night of reflection on the Academy Museum, that includes one thing she by no means dared to think about: a proper apology from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“I used to be shocked. I by no means thought I’d dwell to see the day I’d be listening to this, experiencing this,” Littlefeather (Apache/Yaqui/Ariz.), now 75, tells The Hollywood Reporter of receiving the Academy’s assertion, which was first privately offered to her in June. “Once I was on the podium in 1973, I stood there alone.”

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Again then, in an immediately historic second in each Oscars and dwell tv historical past, a 26-year-old Littlefeather took the stage at Marlon Brando’s behest to say no one of the best actor award (for his function in The Godfather) on his behalf. She had two guarantees to maintain: to not contact the statuette (Brando’s directions), and to maintain her feedback to 60 seconds (an order from present producer Howard Koch, who advised Littlefeather minutes earlier than the award presentation that he had safety available to arrest her if she went previous time).
“[Brando] very regretfully can’t settle for this very beneficiant award,” Littlefeather mentioned in her improvised non-acceptance speech, understanding she wouldn’t have time to learn from the actor’s eight typed pages of ready remarks. “And the explanations for this being are the remedy of American Indians as we speak by the movie business [the audience begins to boo] — excuse me — and on tv in film reruns, and in addition with latest happenings at Wounded Knee.” (A month earlier than the ceremony, the activist group American Indian Motion had occupied the South Dakota city of Wounded Knee to protest the sustained mistreatment of Native Individuals, a standoff that on the time of Littlefeather’s televised look on the Oscars was beneath a U.S. Division of Justice-imposed media blackout.)
Littlefeather’s 60-second plea for justice resulted in rapid and enduring private backlash. She says that within the wings, John Wayne needed to be restrained from storming the stage to bodily assault her, whereas within the aftermath, her id and integrity had been impugned (the rumors had been so abiding that in 2012, Dennis Miller mocked Elizabeth Warren by calling her “as a lot Indian as that stripper chick Brando despatched to choose up his Oscar”). Littlefeather, who had acted in a number of movies earlier than her notorious second, says that the federal authorities threatened to close down any discuss exhibits or productions that put her on the air.

“The abuse you endured due to this assertion was unwarranted and unjustified,” then-Academy president David Rubin wrote within the group’s apology letter, dated June 18. “The emotional burden you’ve got lived by way of and the price to your personal profession in our business are irreparable. For too lengthy the braveness you confirmed has been unacknowledged. For this, we provide each our deepest apologies and our honest admiration.”
The assertion of apology might be learn in full on the Sept. 17 Academy Museum occasion honoring Littlefeather, who will take part in a dialog with producer Chook Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache/N.M.), co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance. It was Runningwater who first reached out to Littlefeather on behalf of the Academy, as a part of the museum’s ongoing efforts to revisit the group’s previous and decide its future by way of a extra expansive, inclusive lens. “Chook gave me a name — on the telephone, after all. He tried to ship smoke indicators however they wouldn’t match beneath the door,” jokes Littlefeather. Runningwater and fellow Academy Inclusion Advisory Committee member Heather Rae cultivated a relationship with the lifelong activist, paving the way in which for her to document an episode for the Academy Museum podcast, released in June, in addition to a visible historical past for the Academy Oral History Projects, to be launched subsequent month.
An Night with Sacheen Littlefeather, which might be free to the general public through online reservations, can even characteristic a land acknowledgement from Virginia Carmelo (Tongva/S. Calif.) and performances by conventional vocalist and singer Calina Lawrence (Suquamish/Wash.), the San Manuel Chook Singers (San Manuel/Calif.), Michael Bellanger (Ojibwe/Minn. and Kickapoo/Okla.) and the All Nation Singers and Dancers and Steve Bohay (Kiowa/Okla.) and the Sooner Nation Singers and Dancers, in addition to remarks from Rubin and incoming Academy president Janet Yang, Academy CEO Invoice Kramer and Assemblymember James Ramos (Serrano/Cahuilla/So. Calif.). Academy Museum director and president Jacqueline Stewart and Earl Neconie (Kiowa/Okla.) will emcee the night.

It will likely be Littlefeather’s first go to to the museum, which has her {photograph} displayed in its Academy Awards Historical past gallery. The Bay Space resident, who went on to check diet and conventional medication and labored in Mom Teresa’s AIDS hospice in San Francisco, by no means anticipated a reconciliation with the group that altered the trajectory of her life practically half a century in the past.
When Stewart visited her residence in June to document the visible historical past, she offered Littlefeather with two items. “I used to be pondering, it could possibly’t be a pair of slippers. That’s too informal for the Academy,” Littlefeather recollects. Certainly: She as an alternative obtained {a photograph} of her look on the Museum’s gallery partitions (“Proper subsequent to Sidney Poitier when he gained greatest actor for Lilies of the Area, so I’m in good firm right here”) and the framed letter from Rubin.
As Stewart learn the letter aloud, Littlefeather sat in bemused however attentive silence as she listened to phrases she by no means thought she’d hear. “You understand, I by no means stood up onstage in 1973 for any type of accolades. I solely stood there as a result of my ancestors had been with me, and I spoke the reality,” she mentioned afterward, clearly nonetheless processing the apology however expressing herself with the identical poise and candor she has demonstrated because the world first heard her voice. It wasn’t till three minutes later, after she mirrored on and paid tribute to the Native American filmmakers and artists making progress in Hollywood — like Runningwater, Rae, actor Wes Studi and Reservation Canines creator Sterlin Harjo — that the feelings hit, and Sacheen Littlefeather started to cry, clutching the framed letter to her chest.
“Sure, there’s an apology that’s due. As my pals within the Native group mentioned, it’s lengthy overdue,” says Littlefeather, who resides with metastasized breast most cancers. “I may have been useless by now. All of my pals — [activists] Dennis Banks, Russell Means, John Trudell, [comedian] Charlie Hill — are gone.”
Littlefeather’s husband, Charles Koshiway (Otoe/Sac&Fox), has additionally handed, of blood most cancers final November. They had been collectively 32 years. “His spirit continues to be right here with me, and I do know that what he needed for me was all the time justice and reconciliation,” says Littlefeather, though when requested what she thinks of Koch and the opposite Oscar night time contributors who stood by as she was harassed, she laughs heartily: “Once they obtained to the opposite aspect, I’m certain that my ancestors spoke to them on my behalf. And I’m certain Mr. Charles went over there and had a chat with them instantly. I’m certain his first goal was John Wayne.”

However for Littlefeather herself, she says she has abided by a private each day observe of “love, gratitude and forgiveness.” And she or he has been heartened by the very latest progress in Native American illustration onscreen and amongst Hollywood’s storytellers: “In the end, any individual is breaking down the doorways. And I’m so very blissful that is occurring — though I don’t swear like they do on Reservation Canines.”
In her concluding phrases again in 1973, Littlefeather mentioned, “I encourage presently that … sooner or later, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity.”
It took 49 years, however these hopeful phrases have lastly turn out to be prescient.
Learn the Academy’s full assertion of reconciliation to Sacheen Littlefeather under.
June 18, 2022
Pricey Sacheen Littlefeather,
I write to you as we speak a letter that has been a very long time approaching behalf of the Academy of Movement Image Arts and Sciences, with humble acknowledgment of your expertise on the forty fifth Academy Awards.
As you stood on the Oscars stage in 1973 to not settle for the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, in recognition of the misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native American folks by the movie business, you made a robust assertion that continues to remind us of the need of respect and the significance of human dignity.
The abuse you endured due to this assertion was unwarranted and unjustified.  The emotional burden you’ve got lived by way of and the price to your personal profession in our business are irreparable.  For too lengthy the braveness you confirmed has been unacknowledged.  For this, we provide each our deepest apologies and our honest admiration.
We can’t understand the Academy’s mission to “encourage creativeness and join the world by way of cinema” with no dedication to facilitating the broadest illustration and inclusion reflective of our various international inhabitants.
Immediately, practically 50 years later, and with the steering of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance, we’re agency in our dedication to making sure indigenous voices—the unique storytellers—are seen, revered contributors to the worldwide movie group. We’re devoted to fostering a extra inclusive, respectful business that leverages a steadiness of artwork and activism to be a driving power for progress.

We hope you obtain this letter within the spirit of reconciliation and as recognition of your important function in our journey as a company.  You might be without end respectfully engrained in our historical past.
With warmest regards, David Rubin
President, Academy of Movement Image Arts and Sciences

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