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The Academy Apologizes to Sacheen Littlefeather for 1973 Oscars Mistreatment

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The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences apologized to actress Sacheen Littlefeather, 49 years after she was booed on stage for her speech on the mistreatment of Native Americans in Hollywood.

On June 18, David Rubin, former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, wrote a letter addressing Littlefeather which was posted on the Academy’s website on Monday.

The letter titled “Statement of Reconciliation” reads:

“Dear Sacheen Littlefeather,

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. 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.

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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.”

Rubin also wrote that they cannot realize the Academy’s mission to “inspire imagination and connect the world through cinema…without a commitment to facilitating the broadest representation and inclusion reflective of our diverse global population.”

“Today, nearly 50 years later, and with the guidance of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance, we are firm in our commitment to ensuring indigenous voices—the original storytellers—are visible, respected contributors to the global film community. We are dedicated to fostering a more inclusive, respectful industry that leverages a balance of art and activism to be a driving force for progress.

We hope you receive this letter in the spirit of reconciliation and as recognition of your essential role in our journey as an organization. You are forever respectfully engrained in our history.”

In March 1973, Littlefeather was asked by actor Marlon Brando to attend the 45th Academy Awards in his place and to refuse the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in “The Godfather,” according to “Good Morning America.”

Brando made the choice not to attend as a protest of the federal government’s response to the Wounded Knee occupation in February of that year.

Littlefeather, who is a Native American civil rights activist, took the stage that night and gave a speech on Brando’s behalf to address Hollywood on their mistreatment of Native Americans and Wounded Knee.

“I’m representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you in a very long speech, which I cannot share with you presently because of time, but I will be glad to share with the press afterwards, that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” Littlefeather said in her speech. “And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry … and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”

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She was then booed by the audience.

On September 17, the Academy will have an event titled “An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather” to talk about that historical night and will include ” a special celebration of live Native American Indian performances featuring a long-awaited statement of apology from the Academy.”

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