Activist Sacheen Littlefeather, who turned down Brando’s Oscar on his behalf, dies at 75

Sacheen Littlefeather, the actor and activist who turned down Marlon Brando’s 1973 Academy Award for: the godfather passed away on his behalf in an indelible protest of how Native people in the United States were portrayed on screen. She was 75.

Littlefeather’s niece, Calina Lawrence, confirmed she passed away peacefully on Sunday, surrounded by loved ones at her home in Marin County, California. The cause was breast cancer, the family said.

Littlefeather’s performance at the 1973 Oscars would go on to become one of the award show’s most famous moments. Dressed in a buckskin dress and moccasins, Littlefeather took the stage as host Roger Moore read Brando’s name as Best Actor winner.

Speaking to the audience, Littlefeather cited native stereotypes in film and the then-ongoing weeklong protests at Wounded Knee in South Dakota as the reason for Brando’s absence. She said the actor wrote “a very long speech” but was limited to short comments due to time constraints.

“I beg at this time that I have not intruded this evening and that in the future, we will meet our hearts and our understanding with love and generosity,” said Littlefeather, becoming the first Native American woman to appear on stage at the Oscars .

VIEW | Sacheen Littlefeather Rejects Marlon Brando’s Oscar:


Though short, straightforward and courteous, Littlefeather’s appearance was controversial, receiving a mix of applause and boos from the audience. In the years that followed, she endured much disdain and abuse for her speech, she said.

“I spoke from my heart,” she told the Associated Press days after the Oscars. ‚ÄúThose words were written in blood, perhaps my own. I felt like Christ carrying the weight of the cross on his shoulders.’

Only recently has the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences officially spoken about the treatment Littlefeather received after her appearance. In August, the film school apologized to Littlefeather and two weeks ago held an evening of “conversation, healing and celebration” in her honor.

“The abuse you have endured because of this statement was unjustified and unjustified,” Academy president David Rubin wrote in a letter to Littlefeather. “The emotional burden you have endured and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable. For too long the courage you have shown has not been recognized. For this we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”

Littlefeather responded in a statement: “We Indians are very patient people – it’s only been 50 years!”

“We must maintain our sense of humor about this at all times,” she added. “It’s our way of survival.”

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