Sacheen Littlefeather, the Native American activist who declined Brando’s Oscar for “The Godfather” in 1973, has died after a fight with breast cancer. She was 75.
In June, the Academy apologized to Littlefeather for her treatment when she took the stage to speak on Brando’s behalf during the broadcast, and she attended an in-person presentation of that apology on Sept. 17.
She was given only a minute to speak on that night in 1973. Audience members booed her as she was escorted off the stage.
“He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” Littlefeather said. “And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.”
Famously, John Wayne was physically restrained during Littlefeather’s speech, threatening her with assault.
She said that her speech led her to be blacklisted from Hollywood, so she dedicated her life to activism.
David Rubin, the Academy’s former president, acknowledged Littlefeather’s mistreatment in a statement earlier this year, according to KTLA.
“You made a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity,” Rubin wrote at the time. “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.”
“You are forever respectfully engrained in our history,” Rubin added.
A documentary about Littlefeather’s life and activism was released in 2021.
“When I am gone, always be reminded that whenever you stand for your truth, you will be keeping my voice and the voices of our nations and our people alive. I remain Sacheen Littlefeather. Thank you,” she is quoted as saying in the Academy’s tweet.