The actress was booed at the 1973 Academy Awards after she turned down the best actor award on behalf of Marlon Brando in protest of Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans.
DEATH OF THE LEGEND
Sacheen Littlefeather, the Native American activist and actress who refused to accept Marlon Brando’s best actor award at the 1973 Academy Awards and drew jeers on stage in an act that underscored her criticism of Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans, died Sunday at her home in Marin County. California. She was 75 years old.
Her death was announced in a statement by her family and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Last year, Ms Littlefeather confirmed on Facebook that she had breast cancer – “stage four, terminal” – which had spread to her lungs.
Her death came just weeks after the Academy apologized to Ms Littlefeather for her treatment during the Oscars. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in August, she said she was “stunned” by the apology.
“I never thought I would live to hear and experience that,” she said.
When Ms. Littlefeather, then 26, raised her right hand that night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles — signaling to the awards show, the audience and millions watching on television that she, acting at Mr. Brand’s request, had no desire to receive the shiny gold statuette — it marked one of the most famously disruptive moments in Oscars history.
“I am asking at this moment that I do not interfere with this evening and that in the future our hearts and our understanding will be met with love and generosity,” Ms. Littlefeather said on stage, enduring the chorus. boos and cheers from the crowd.
Her performance at the 45th Academy Awards marked the first time a Native American woman had graced the ceremony in a glittering buckskin dress, moccasins and hair clips. But the backlash and criticism was immediate. Actor John Wayne was so distraught that the show’s producer, Marty Pasetta, said security had to restrain him from storming the stage.
Ms Littlefeather told The Hollywood Reporter in August: “When I was on stage in 1973, I was standing there by myself.”
She was born Marie Cruz on November 14, 1946 in Salinas, California. Her father was from the White Mountain Apache and Yaqui tribes of Arizona; her mother was of French, German and Dutch lineage, according to Ms. Littlefeather’s website. After high school, she adopted the name Sacheen Littlefeather to “reflect her natural heritage,” according to the site.
Ms. Littlefeather’s website said she participated in the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island, which began in 1969 as an act of defiance against a government that protesters say has long trampled on the rights of Native Americans.
HER ACTING CAREER
Her acting career began in the early 1970s at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. She continued with roles in films such as “The Trial of Billy Jack” (1974) and “Winterhawk” (1975).
Ms. Littlefeather said in an interview with the Academy that she had planned to watch the awards on television when she got a call the night before the ceremony from Mr. Brando, who was nominated for his performance as Vito Corleone in “The Godfather.”
The two became friends through her neighbor Francis Ford Coppola, who directed the film. Mr. Brando asked her to decline the award on his behalf if she won, and gave her a speech to read just to be sure.
With only about 15 minutes left in the program, Ms. Littlefeather arrived at the ceremony with little information about how the night would go, she said.
An Oscars producer noticed the pages in Ms Littlefeather’s hand and told her she would be arrested if her comments lasted more than 60 seconds.
Then Mr. Brando won.
In the speech, Ms. Littlefeather drew attention to the federal government’s standoff with protesting Native Americans, then unfolding at Wounded Knee, S.D., the site of a massacre by American soldiers a century earlier.
She later recalled that while she was giving the speech – she never finished it – she “concentrated on the mouths and jaws that were opening in the audience, and there were quite a few of them”.
The audience, which included “very few people of color,” she recalled, looked like “a sea of Clorox.”
She said that some members of the audience performed a so-called “tomahawk chop” on her and that when she later went to Mr. Brand’s house, people were shooting at the door where she was standing.
Last month, Ms. Littlefeather appeared on an Academy program called “An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather” in which she recalled the Oscars and said she stood up for justice in all the arts.
“I wasn’t representing myself,” she said. “I was representing all the Indigenous voices out there, all the Indigenous people, because we’ve never been heard in this way before.”
The audience burst into applause.
“I had to pay the entrance fee, and that was fine,” she continued. “Because that door had to be open.
After learning that the Academy would formally apologize to her, Ms Littlefeather said it was “like a big cleansing”.
“I feel like the sacred circle is completing itself,” she said, “before I go into this life.”