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Sacheen Littlefeather, Who Rejected Marlon Brando’s Oscar, Says Hollywood Blacklisted Her
Native American Sacheen Littlefeather speaks at the 45th Academy Awards. On behalf of Marlon Brando, she refused the Best Actor award he was awarded for his role in Godfather. Brando refused the award because of the treatment by the Americans of the American Indian.
Bettmann / Contributor

Back in 1973, legendary actor Marlon Brando famously rejected his Oscar win for Best Actor in “The Godfather” by having Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather speak in his stead to denounce the industry’s treatment of Native Americans on film.

“My name is Sacheen Littlefeather. I’m Apache and I am president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. 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,” said Sacheen in her speech. “And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry – excuse me – and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee. I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that we will in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando.”

A new documentary, “Sacheen: Breaking The Silence,” explores the aftermath of that moment and how Sacheen Littlefeather suffered in her career as a result. According to Deadline, Littlefeather felt “abandoned” by Brando amid the backlash.

“Littlefeather says Brando was delighted by her performance, but then felt abandoned by the actor when the ensuing firestorm erupted,” reported the outlet. “As a result, Littlefeather claims she was ‘blacklisted’ by Hollywood from her minor career in small films and television, and never worked again.”

“It was the first time anyone had made a political statement at the Oscars,” Littlefeather says in the documentary. “It was the first Oscars ceremony to be broadcast by satellite all over the world, which is why Marlon chose it. I didn’t have an evening dress so Marlon told me to wear my buckskin.”

During the moment, Sacheen recalls hearing “boos and jeers” and later learned that six security guards had to detain John Wayne as he tried to storm the stage.

“I later learned six security guards had to hold back John Wayne, who was in the wings and wanted to storm on to the stage and drag me off,” she said.

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