Film academy apologizes to Sacheen Littlefeather for backlash during 1973 ceremony

Actress Sacheen Littlefeather of television show "Reel Injun" speaks during the PBS portion of the 2010 Summer TCA Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 5, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California.
Actress Sacheen Littlefeather of television show "Reel Injun" speaks during the PBS portion of the 2010 Summer TCA Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 5, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California. Photo credit Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES (KNX) – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued an apology to activist, Sacheen Littlefeather (Apache/Yaqui/AZ), for the treatment she received during the 45th Academy Awards, where she denied Marlon Brando’s “Best Actor” award on the actor’s behalf.

In the letter, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, outgoing Academy president David Rubin noted that the letter was “a long time coming” and apologized not just for her overall experience that night, but also for what happened afterward.

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“The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” the letter read.  “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.”

The outlet noted the statement was given to the Native American activist privately in June.

“I never thought I’d live to see the day I would be hearing this, experiencing this,” she told the publication.

In 1973, a then-26-year-old Littlefeather took to the stage after Brando was announced the winner for “Best Actor” for his role in “The Godfather.”

“I’m representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you… that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” she said, “and the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry…”

Her speech was met with some claps and some “boos” from the audience. She went on to reference the Wounded Knee, where members of the Oglala Sioux tribe and the American Indian Movement seized the South Dakota town demanding the removal of tribal president Richard “Dick” Wilson.

Littlefeather has been open about what happened that night, including seeing actor John Wayne having to be restrained by security at the wings of the stage during her speech.

She also revealed in an interview with The Guardian that prior to the speech, she had been at Brando’s house, where he handed her the typed, eight-page speech. She and Brando’s assistant arrived at the ceremony, where the show’s producer allegedly told her she couldn’t read the speech and that she would be taken off the stage after 60 seconds.

In addition to the letter, the Academy Museum will host an event in her name on Sept. 17 called “An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather.”

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images