Motion Picture Academy Makes Decades Old Apology To Controversial Figure

After decades of silence, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has made a long overdue apology.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

oscars 2022 sacheen littlefeather

In a day and age in which celebrities are not only expected to express political and social opinions but expected to, it is very easy to forget it was once controversial. Only a few decades ago, an actor using an award show as a platform for protest was considered by many to be unacceptable, uncouth, and possibly un-American. However, times have changed and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is formally apologizing to Sacheen Littlefeather, the Native American actress who represented Marlon Brando at the 1973 Academy Awards and was heavily booed, criticized, and disparaged for giving a politically charged speech. 

Sacheen Littlefeather at the 45th Academy Awards

According to the BBC, former Academy president David Rubin wrote a letter to Sacheen Littlefeather (now made public), in which he apologized on behalf of the Academy, stating that “The abuse you endured…was unwarranted and unjustified” and “For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.” The Academy will also be hosting an event in September in which Sacheen Littlefeather will discuss her appearance, the backlash she experienced because of it (as well as the support from some), and the changing state of indigenous representation in the media. Sacheen Littlefeather also issued her own statement, stating that the apology was a dream come true and good-humoredly joking that it had only taken some 50 years to receive it. 

The actual incident at the 1973 Academy Awards has been widely discussed and some facts of the matter debated. However, it is certain that Sacheen Littlefeather appeared at the 45th Academy Awards in place of Marlon Brando, who was a heavy favorite to win Best Actor for his work in The Godfather. He ultimately did win, at which point Sacheen Littlefeather declined the statue being offered by Roger Moore and gave a short speech in which she stated she was there in place of Marlon Brando who was refusing the award due to the treatment of Native Americans in media and because of the then-ongoing occupation of Wounded Knee by the American Indian Movement. 

While some of the audience applauded Sacheen Littlefeather, many more loudly booed. According to Littlefeather, a producer of the Academy Awards show had told her she had 60 seconds in which to deliver her remarks and that if she went over, she would be arrested. According to a number of people present, actor John Wayne (famed for his work in the Western genre and his conservative politics) had to be physically restrained from assaulting Sacheen Littlefeather. Later in the evening, both Raquel Welch and Clint Eastwood made disparaging comments about the incident in their presentation speeches. 

In the aftermath, Sacheen Littlefeather says her aspiring acting career was blacklisted and it was claimed (incorrectly) in the media that she was not actually a Native American and was masquerading as one for publicity. While it may have taken years for the Academy to apologize to Sacheen Littlefeather, it is good that they have finally come around.