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Academy says sorry to Sacheen Littlefeather after 1973 Oscars heckling

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has said sorry to Sacheen Littlefeather after she was booed while making a speech at the 1973 Oscars.

Actress and Native American civil rights activist Sacheen, 75, was 26 when she was heckled during a one-minute speech at the Academy Awards, during which she spoke to refuse an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, who had triumphed in the Best Actor category for ‘The Godfather’.

Sacheen told the crowd and the 85 million watching on TV that the legendary actor wasn’t able to accept the accolade because of “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry”, which prompted boos as well as some applause.

Now, Academy president David Rubin has admitted the abuse that the star – who became the first Native woman to stand onstage at the Academy Awards – received was “unwarranted and unjustified”, and he offered the Academy’s “deepest apologies and our sincere admiration”.

In a letter to her, he wrote: “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.

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.

We 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.

With warmest regards,

David Rubin

President, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ()”

Sacheen – whose real name is Marie Louise Cruz – said in response to the Academy’s apology: “We Indians are very patient people – it’s only been 50 years.

“We need to keep our sense of humour about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.”

In September, the Academy will host An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather, a special celebration of live Native American Indian performances featuring an apology from the Academy.


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