In 1973, Marlon Brando refused his Academy Award for his work in The Godfather in protest of the way Hollywood was depicting and treating Native American people. Not in attendance himself, Brando sent 26-year-old actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather —an Apache and Yaqui woman — in his place to deliver a nonacceptance speech.
While some Oscar attendees clapped as Littlefeather spoke, others booed and jeered. In the 2019 documentary Sacheen: Breaking the Silence, Littlefeather said that she was nearly physically assaulted by John Wayne.
“I was escorted off of that stage by some armed guards,” she said, “and luckily so, because John Wayne was waiting in the wings ready to go on, to pull me off the stage, and he had to be held back by six security men, because he was so outraged by what I had said.”
The Academy’s apology was sent to Littlefeather back in June, but has been released to the public today, alongside plans for a program titled An Evening With Sacheen Littlefeather, which will occur on September 17.
The letter, which you can read in full below, acknowledged that the moment “resulted in her being professionally boycotted, personally attacked and harassed, and discriminated against for the last 50 years”.
In a press statement, Littlefeather addressed the apology, joking, “we Indians are very patient people — it’s only been 50 years!”
“We need to keep our sense of humour about this at all times. It’s our method of survival,” she continued. “I never thought I’d live to see the day for this program to take place, featuring such wonderful Native performers and Bird Runningwater, a television and film producer who also guided the Sundance Institute’s commitment to Indigenous filmmakers for 20 years through the Institute’s Labs and Sundance Film Festival.
“This is a dream come true. It is profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago. I am so proud of each and every person who will appear on stage.”
Read the Academy’s full apology below, per The Hollywood Reporter:
Dear Sacheen Littlefeather,
I write to you today a letter that has been a long time coming on behalf of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with humble acknowledgment of your experience at the 45th Academy Awards.
As you stood on the Oscars stage in 1973 to not accept the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, in recognition of the misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native American people by the film industry, you made a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity.
The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified. The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.
We cannot realise the Academy’s mission to “inspire imagination and connect the world through cinema” without a commitment to facilitating the broadest representation and inclusion reflective of our diverse global population.
Today, nearly 50 years later, and with the guidance of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance, we are firm in our commitment to ensuring indigenous voices—the original storytellers—are visible, respected contributors to the global film community. We are dedicated to fostering a more inclusive, respectful industry that leverages a balance of art and activism to be a driving force for progress.
We hope you receive this letter in the spirit of reconciliation and as recognition of your essential role in our journey as an organisation. You are forever respectfully engrained in our history.
With warmest regards,
President, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences