Sacheen Littlefeather Dead: Activist who took the stage to reject Marlon Brando’s Oscar was 75

Sacheen Littlefeather, the Native American activist who declined Marlon Brando’s Oscar for The Godfather on his behalf at the 1973 Academy Awards, died Sunday at the age of 75, the Academy of Motion Pictures said. She had suffered from breast cancer.

In June, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences apologized to Littlefeather for her treatment at that night’s Oscars. Littlefeather attended an in-person presentation of the apology at the Academy Museum on September 17.

At the Oscars, she had just 60 seconds to read her speech on Native American rights and was then escorted offstage to boos.

“It is with great regret that he cannot accept this very generous award,” Littlefeather told the Oscars audience in . “And the reasons for that are the treatment of American Indians by the film industry today … and on television in film reruns and also in the recent events at Wounded Knee.”

She was allowed to read her full speech at a later press conference, which was printed in the New York Times. Raquel Welch, Clint Eastwood and Oscar co-host Michael Caine were among those who criticized her on camera for disrupting the ceremony.

Littlefeather, born Marie Louise Cruz of Salinas, California, became interested in Native American issues in college and took part in the occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1970, during which time she took her name.

After college, she joined SAG and reportedly met Brando, who was interested in Native American issues, through Francis Ford Coppola, who, like Littlefeather, lived in San Francisco.

In a recent interview, Littlefeather shared diversity what it was like attending the Oscars for Brando.

“It was my first time at the Academy Awards. I made it through my first hurdle and promised Marlon Brando I wouldn’t touch that Oscar. But as I left this stage, I did it on the path of courage, honor, grace, dignity and truthfulness. I did this the way my ancestors and indigenous women did.

Sacheen Littlefeather holds a written statement from actor Marlon Brando rejecting his Oscar for Best Actor on Stage at the 1973 Academy Awards.

Getty Images

“I got hit with the stereotypical tomahawk chop, people called me and I ignored them all. I continued walking straight ahead with a couple of armed guards at my side, and I held my head high, proud to be the first Indigenous woman in Oscars history to make that political statement.

“Back in 1973 there was a media blackout on Wounded Knee and the Indian movement that occupied it. Marlon had called them in advance and asked them to come and see the Oscars, which they did. If they saw me up on stage rejecting the Oscar for film industry stereotypes and mentioning Wounded Knee in South Dakota, that would break the media boycott.”

Littlefeather has also recently been reflecting and narrating about death diversity, “When we die, we know that our ancestors come to give. We know that we are going into this spirit world from which we came. We take this as warriors with pride and not defeat and look forward to joining our ancestors who will be with us at our last breath and who will welcome us to this world on the other side and have a great celebration for us. ”

A documentary about her life and activism, Sacheen Breaking the Silence, was released in 2021.

Though she had a few small roles in films like The Trial of Billy Jack, Littlefeather said she was blacklisted in Hollywood after the Oscars and returned to San Francisco to continue her activism in theater and healthcare to work. Sacheen Littlefeather Dead: Activist who took the stage to reject Marlon Brando’s Oscar was 75

Charles Jones

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