Actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather, who caused a stir when she spoke out against indigenous Hollywood representation at the 1973 Oscars, died Sunday (October 2) at the age of 75 in the northern California city of Novato. from loved ones. .
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which reconciled with Littlefeather in June and hosted a celebration in her honor just two weeks ago, revealed the news on its social media overnight.
Littlefeather revealed in 2018 that she had been diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.
In her final months of life, she received a formal apology from the Academy for the way he had treated her in 1973, when she took the stage as a representative sent by Marlon Branco to receive the Oscar he had won for his work in “The Godfather”. (1972).
At the time, Littlefeather read a message from Brando in which he criticized, among other things, the Native American stereotypes perpetuated by the entertainment industry. “When you stereotype us, you dehumanize us”, she pointed out, under a strong mix of boos and applause.
At that moment, John Wayne, who was backstage, had to be restrained by six security guards so as not to invade the stage and quarrel with the young indigenous girl. No one was prepared for what had happened.
It was the first political speech at an Oscar – and the only time the trophy was turned down by its winner. The surprise caused indignation and was considered a bad joke at the time. In fact, for a long time, the enterprise boiled down to a Marlon Brando joke. The contempt was heightened when it came to light that Sacheen Littlefeather was an actress.
In fact, Sacheen Littlefeather was an actress. But she is a legitimate Apache actress, who starred in “The Trial of Billy Jack” and “The Return of the Brave”, but after her historic speech she lost her union membership and had to leave the profession.
In 2022, the Academy admitted that the speech led to Littlefeather being “professionally boycotted, personally attacked, harassed and discriminated against for the past 50 years.”
Littlefeather herself had already stated this in a short documentary called “Sacheen”, released in 2019. In the short, she said that Brando also abandoned her after the backlash. Also, her controversy blacklisted her in Hollywood and, as a result, she no longer got acting jobs.
Already engaged in political activism, she then began to devote herself once and for all to indigenous causes, but turned to the topic of health. Graduated in holistic health from the University of Antioch with a major in Native American medicine, she went on to write a health column for the Kiowa Tribe newspaper in Oklahoma, lectured in the indigenous traditional medicine program at St. Mary’s in Tucson, in Arizona, and worked with Mother Teresa to help AIDS patients in the San Francisco Bay Area, later becoming a founding board member of the American Indian AIDS Institute in San Francisco.
Littlefeather also continued her involvement in the arts, founding a national organization of Native American actors in the early 1980s and continuing to be an advocate for Native American inclusion in Hollywood so white actors weren’t chosen – and “red-faced” paintings – in indigenous roles.
His speech for inclusion and representation is now considered a historic milestone, the harbinger of a complete turnaround in Hollywood.
In a belated acknowledgment, the Academy decided to apologize to her through a letter signed by its president, David Rubin, and sent last June, and to invite her to participate in an activity of the Cinema Museum, entitled to a program. entirely developed by her, which took place on 17 September.
“As for the Academy’s apology to me, we natives are very patient people – it’s only been 50 years! We have to keep our sense of humor about it all the time. It’s our method of survival,” he said. , via a press release.
Two weeks before his death, he attended an Academy event for the second time in his life, commemorating the museum’s commemoration in his honor. At the time, she made it clear that he knew his end was imminent. “I will soon enter the spirit world,” she commented.
“I am here to accept these excuses, not for myself, but for all of our nations who also need to hear and deserve these excuses. Look at our people. Look at each other and be proud that you survived, all of them. us. Please, when I am gone, remember that every time you stand up for your truth, you will keep my voice and the voices of our nations and our people alive. “
Read the Academy’s full apology to the actress below.
“Dear Sacheen Piuma,
I am writing you a long letter today on behalf of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in humble recognition of your experience at the 45th Academy Awards.
When you took the stage in 1973 to refuse to accept an Oscar on Marlon Brando’s behalf, citing the film industry’s misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native Americans, you made a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the need for respect and the importance of the human being. dignity.
The abuse you suffered as a result of that statement was unreasonable and unwarranted. The emotional toll you have experienced and the cost to your career in our industry are irreparable. For a long time, the courage you showed was not recognized. For this, we offer our sincere apologies and our sincere admiration.
We cannot fulfill the Academy’s mission to “inspire the imagination and connect the world through film” without a commitment to facilitate broader representation and inclusion that reflects our diverse global population.
Today, nearly 50 years later, and with the leadership of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance, we are steadfast in our commitment to ensure that indigenous voices – the original storytellers – contribute visibly and respected to the global film community. We are dedicated to promoting a more inclusive and respectful industry that harnesses a balance of art and activism to be a driving force for progress.
We hope you receive this letter in a spirit of reconciliation and in recognition of your essential role in our journey as an organization. You are forever respectfully rooted in our history.
With best regards,
President, Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences “.