Sacheen Littlefeather has passed, aged 75

Sacheen Littlefeather, Marlon Brando’s Oscar Spokesperson, Dies at 75

Home / News / Sacheen Littlefeather, Marlon Brando’s Oscar Spokesperson, Dies at 75

By Rima Pundir on October 3, 2022 at 2:30 PM EDT

In 1973, when Marlon Brando was nominated for and won the Academy Award for "The Godfather", his acceptance speech surprised everyone. Instead of the actor, Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather walked onstage in a traditional Apache outfit and declined the award, speaking to a booing audience.

The Native American hero and queen, who recently received an apology from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, passed away On Sunday, noon, aged 75. According to media reports, she died peacefully, surrounded by her loved ones.

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Sacheen Littlefeather Created Ripples In 1973

Sacheen Littlefeather has passed, aged 75
Instagram | sacheenbreakingthesilence

Back in 1973, Marlon Brando had pre-decided to boycott the Oscars in protest of how Native Americans were portrayed onscreen in Hollywood. He was also trying to bring to attention the then ongoing occupation at Wounded Knee. Some 200 members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) were in a face-off against a literal army of law enforcement in the South Dakota town.

When presenters Liv Ullmann and Roger Moore first listed the nominees for best actor and later called out Brando’s name for the winner, things went a little off track. The telecast showed 26-year-old Littlefeather as she walked to the stage from her seat, prompting the explanation, "Accepting the award for Marlon Brando and "The Godfather", Miss Sacheen Littlefeather."

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Littlefeather held up a hand, denoting her refusal to even touch the statuette being held out to her by Moore, and went up to the podium to speak the words that turned her into a legend, "Mr. Brando very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award."

Here's Littlefeather and her speech.

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Her Speech Did Not Make Her Popular At The Time

Sacheen Littlefeather has passed, aged 75
Instagram | sacheenbreakingthesilence

Littlefeather also went on to mention Wounded Knee and how Brando was protesting the government's stand on it, and her 60-second speech was received with polite applause with plenty of boos. Public sentiment remained most negative, with many in the media questioning her Native heritage, given that her father was Apache and Yaqui but her mother was white.

Conservative celebrities like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Charlton Heston were none too happy and allegedly criticized Brando and Littlefeather’s actions. Littlefeather also claimed that Wayne wanted to have her taken off stage and had to be restrained by security, although an investigation later showed this may not have been true.

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A Playboy appearance soon after further gave fodder to the press and for years, Littlefeather became part of Oscar lore, more as a vamp than a heroine.

Half a century later, the Academy apologized. On June 18, then-AMPAS president David Rubin wrote a letter to Littlefeather, saying, "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."

Instagram Pays Tribute To Sacheen Littlefeather

Sacheen Littlefeather has passed, aged 75
Instagram | sacheenbreakingthesilence

Little is known of her life post the incident, and she never really made it big as an actress. The social media accounts of The Academy recently posted a tribute to the late actress, who disclosed in March 2018 that she had stage 4 breast cancer, and it had metastasized in recent years.

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Just two weeks ago, the Academy also invited Littlefeather to its museum for an evening curated in her honor, to further their apology and 50 years later, she still greeted the audience with warmth, quipping, "Well, I made it — after 50 years. You know how we Indian people are, we are very patient people."

Instagram mourned her passing with fans writing comments like:

"She deserved better than what she went through."

"May your voice, courage, and bravery be remembered Miss Littlefeather"

Many decried the Academy's apology calling it too little, too late.

"An apology is not enough for what you put her through. Rest in Power, Sacheen 🖤"

"it took y’all 50 years to apologize for what happened. now is not the time for y’all to pretend you cared for her to any degree."

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Others simply celebrated her spirit.

"Soar high Littlefeather & may Marlon be there to greet you. So glad you got your apology before eternally sleeping."

"A strong voice never dies."

RIP, Sacheen Littlefeather.

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