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Academy apologizes to Sacheen Littlefeather for treatment when she refused Marlon Brando's Oscar in 1973

The Native American activist and actor was met with disrespect and harassment as she refused Marlon Brando’s trophy for "The Godfather."
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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences apologized to the Native American activist and actor Sacheen Littlefeather, almost 50 years after she was met with disrespect and harassment as she declined Marlon Brando’s Oscar.

In 1973, Littlefeather became the first person to make a political statement at the Oscars ceremony. When Brando was announced as the best actor winner for his role in “The Godfather,” Littlefeather took the stage to make a powerful and poignant statement about the depiction of Native Americans in the entertainment industry.

During her speech, Littlefeather was applauded and booed. She recently claimed in an interview with A.frame, the academy’s digital magazine, that John Wayne physically assaulted her and took her off the stage.

In June, David Rubin, the former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, issued an apology to Littlefeather for the way she was treated.

“I write to you today a letter that has been a long time coming on behalf of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with humble acknowledgment of your experience at the 45th Academy Awards,” said Rubin’s letter, which was published online Monday. “As you stood on the Oscars stage in 1973 to not accept the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, in recognition of the misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native American people by the film industry, you made a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity.

“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,” the statement continued in part. “For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”

In addition, the academy announced that it will host “An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather,” a conversation with Littlefeather about reflection, healing and celebration, on Sept.17.

Littlefeather said the apology was overdue.

“Regarding the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are very patient people — it’s only been 50 years! We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It’s our method of survival,” she said in a news release. “I never thought I’d live to see the day for this program to take place, featuring such wonderful Native performers and Bird Runningwater, a television and film producer who also guided the Sundance Institute’s commitment to Indigenous filmmakers for twenty years through the Institute’s Labs and Sundance Film Festival.

“This is a dream come true. It is profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago. I am so proud of each and every person who will appear on stage,” she added.

The event was programmed by Littlefeather and produced by the Academy Museum’s vice president of education and public engagement, Amy Homma. It will also include a reading of the academy’s letter of apology, Native American performances and special guests.