Actor and Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather, who took the stage at the 1973 Academy Awards to reveal that Marlon Brando would not accept his Oscar for The Godfather, has died. She was 75.
According to entertainment website Variety, she suffered from breast cancer. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, which apologized to Littlefeather after nearly 50 years and held a celebration in her honor just two weeks ago, also took to Twitter Sunday night to mourn her passing.
Sacheen Littlefeather, Native American civil rights activist who famously turned down Marlon Brando’s Best Actor Oscar in 1973, dies at age 75. pic.twitter.com/OlpsoItlCw
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) October 3, 2022
Born Marie Louise Cruz in Salinas, California to a Native American father (Apache and Yaqui) and a European-American mother in 1946, Littlefeather became interested in Native American issues in college and participated in the 1970 occupation of Alcatraz Island, taking her name at that time.
After college, she joined the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and reportedly met Brando, who was interested in Native American issues, through its The Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola, who, like Littlefeather, lived in San Francisco.
Brando, who was the frontrunner for the best actor Oscar for his career turnaround as mob patriarch Vito Corleone, boycotted the ceremony in protest against Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans and to draw attention to the 200-member deadlock at Wounded Knee. of the American Indian Movement (AIM) took on thousands of U.S. marshals and other federal agents in the city of South Dakota.
At the 1973 Oscars, Littlefeather took the stage on behalf of Brando, where she was given just 60 seconds to read her speech on Native American rights.
“He is sadly unable to accept this most generous award. And the reasons for this are the film industry’s treatment of American Indians today…and on television in reruns, as well as with recent events at Wounded Knee,” Littlefeather had told the audience of the Academy Awards.
She was then escorted off the stage with the reaction of the audience, which was split between booing and applause. Actors Raquel Welch, Clint Eastwood and Oscar co-host Michael Caine were among those who criticized the activist on camera for disrupting the ceremony.
Littlefeather was allowed to read her full speech at a later press conference and it was printed in the New York Times newspaper.
Although she had a few small roles in films such as The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) and Shoot the Sun Down (1978), Littlefeather said she was blacklisted from Hollywood in the wake of her Oscars speech.
She later returned to San Francisco to continue her activism and work in theater and healthcare.
In June, the Academy apologized to Littlefeather for her treatment at the Oscars that night. She attended a personal presentation of the apology at the Academy Museum on September 17.
“The abuse you have suffered because of this statement was unjustified and unjustified. The emotional burden you have endured and the cost to your own career in our industry is irreparable.
“For too long the courage you have shown has not been acknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration,” then AMPAS President David Rubin wrote to her in a letter dated June 18.
A documentary about her life and activism, titled Sacheen Breaking the Silence, was released in 2021.