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AMPAS Presents An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather

Source: Frazer Harrison / Getty

Native American actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather has passed away at the age of 75, according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which made the announcement via Twitter on Sunday.

From NPR:

Born Marie Louise Cruz on Nov. 14, 1946 in Salinas, Calif., Littlefeather later changed her name in her 20s as she explored her Native American heritage and became an activist.

On March 27, 1973, she provided one of the most dramatic moments in Oscar history. As Brando’s name was read for winning best actor for his role in The Godfather, Littlefeather took to the stage wearing moccasins and a buckskin dress to politely offer Brando’s regrets for refusing the award because of Hollywood’s treatment and portrayal of Native Americans.

Her speech to decline the Oscar on behalf of Brando was met by a mixture of boos and cheers. She said she saw the actor John Wayne being restrained from rushing the stage while she was on, The Los Angeles Times reported.

In fact, earlier this year after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on the Oscar stage, Littlefeather name came up quite a bit after many suggested the slap heard around the world was the worst thing to happen at the Oscars. It turned out a lot of people thought white rage having to be physically restrained all because an activist of color standing up for herself and her people was a lot worse and more shameful.

“People were making money off of that racism of the Hollywood Indian,” Littlefeather said during a 2020 interview, according to NPR’s Mandalit Del Barco. “Of course, they’re going to boo. They don’t want their evening interrupted.”

The Academy formally apologized to Littlefeather for the “unwarranted and unjustified” (not to mention racist) response to her Oscars speech in August, nearly 50 years after it happened. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter Littlefeather said she was “stunned” she got the apology at all.

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

Here’s a little more on Littlefinger from the New York Times:

Her acting career began in the early 1970s at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. She would go on to play roles in films like “The Trial of Billy Jack” (1974) and “Winterhawk” (1975).

Ms. Littlefeather said in an interview with the Academy that she had been planning to watch the awards on television when, the night before the ceremony, she received a call from Mr. Brando, who had been nominated for his performance as Vito Corleone in “The Godfather.”

The two had become friends through her neighbor Francis Ford Coppola, who had directed the film. Mr. Brando asked her to refuse the award on his behalf if he won and gave her a speech to read just in case.

After the fallout from her Oscars speech, Brando said he regretted that Littlefinger had taken so much heat that was meant for him.

“I was distressed that people should have booed and whistled and stomped, even though perhaps it was directed at myself,” he told then-talk show host Dick Cavett. “They should have at least had the courtesy to listen to her.”

But a true activist knows their work is often thankless work. Well, thank you, Sacheen Littlefeather. Rest well.