The Academy of Motion Pictures announced that Sacheen Littlefeather has died at 75. He was a Native American activist who declined Marlon Brando’s Oscar for The Godfather.
Little feather was suffering from breast cancer.
On Sunday night, the Academy posted a tweet announcing her death. The Hollywood Reporter quoted a statement by her caretaker, which stated that she died Sunday afternoon at her Novato home, in Northern California. She was surrounded by her loved one.
Brando was nominated for the 1973 best actor Oscar for his role as the Godfather, but he did not attend the ceremony because he was protesting Native American rights. Littlefeather attended the event in Brando’s place. She declined to accept the award, and made a brief speech explaining that Brando’s decision to refuse to accept it was partly due to the “treatment of American Indians today in the film industry…and on television, in movie repeats.”
Littlefeather was 26 at the time. She was booed and later claimed that John Wayne had to be stopped from attacking her backstage by security guards. Others backstage were also reported to have made offensive gestures. After the ceremony, Hollywood blacklisted her.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences offered Littlefeather a formal apology in August for her treatment.
The Oscars governing body described her appearance as “a powerful declaration that continues to remind me of the necessity for respect and the importance human dignity”.
“The abuse that you suffered because of this statement was not justified and unjustified. It is irreparable the emotional pain you have endured and the damage to your career in this industry. Too often, the courage that you displayed has gone unrecognized. We offer our deepest apologies as well as our sincere admiration for this.” it stated.
Littlefeather replied, “Regarding Academy’s apology towards me, we Indians – it’s only 50 years!” This is why we need to keep our senses of humor about it at all costs. It is our way of survival.
Littlefeather spoke out about her difficult childhood in interview with Guardian in 2021. Littlefeather was born in 1946 to an Apache and Yaqui father, and a white mom. Both of them were mentally ill and unable raise her. At three years old, she was taken from her parents and raised by her maternal grandparents. She recalls hitting her father with a broom as a child to stop him beating her mother. “That’s when I became an activist, I think.”
Littlefeather started visiting Arizona reservations when she was 17 years old, after her father’s death. “I had a breakthrough with other urban Indians, getting back to our traditions, our heritage. We learned from the old people who were from different reservations how to be Indian again. It was amazing.”
Littlefeather began her 20s working as a radio host in San Francisco. She was also the head of a Native American affirmative action committee. Marlon Brando spoke about Native American rights and she sent him a note. He called her months later and they became close friends.
Littlefeather, now an elder teaching cultural knowledge to younger Native Americans, said that she was “very very ill” from breast cancer.
“I have been receiving chemotherapy for a while and I am on daily antibiotics. She said that her memory has declined over the years as a result. “Cancer is a full-time job. I’m tired all the way. You don’t have to apply for cancer if you are lazy.
She spoke of death and said, “I’m going somewhere else.” I’m going back to the world of all my ancestors. You are far too important for me to say goodbye. I have earned the right to be myself.
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