The Academy apologises to indigenous actor decades after mistreatment at 1973 Oscars

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  • The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has apologised to Sacheen Littlefeather.
  • At the 1971 Oscars ceremony, Littlefeather was heckled while explaining at the request of Marlon Brando why he couldn't accept the award for Best Actor. 
  • Littlefeather later revealed that Western star John Wayne had to be restrained from physically assaulting her.

Nearly 50 years after she was booed off the Oscars stage for declining Marlon Brando's award on his behalf in protest at the film industry's treatment of Native Americans, Sacheen Littlefeather has received an apology from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group said Monday.

Littlefeather, who is Apache and Yaqui, was heckled at the 1973 Academy Awards while explaining at his behest why the absent Brando could not accept his Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather.

She later said veteran Western star John Wayne had to be restrained from physically assaulting her in an incident that has since drawn comparisons with Will Smith's infamous attack on Chris Rock at this year's ceremony.

At the 1973 Academy Awards, Sacheen Littlefeather
At the 1973 Academy Awards, Sacheen Littlefeather refuses the Academy Award for Best Actor on behalf of Marlon Brando who won for his role in The Godfather.

"The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified," said the apology letter sent in June from then-Academy president David Rubin.

"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."

The Academy released the letter as it announced that Littlefeather had been invited to speak at its film museum in Los Angeles next month.

The museum, which opened last September, has pledged to confront the Oscars' "problematic history", including racism. One display already tackles the harassment of Littlefeather.

"Regarding the Academy's apology to me, we Indians are very patient people - it's only been 50 years!" Littlefeather said in a statement.

"We need to keep our sense of humour about this at all times. It's our method of survival," said Littlefeather, describing the upcoming event as "a dream come true."

"It is profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago. I am so proud of each and every person who will appear on stage," she added.

'Healing'

The Academy has moved to confront accusations of a lack of racial diversity in recent years.

In 2019, Last of the Mohicans star Wes Studi became the first Native American actor to receive an Oscar, with an honorary Academy Award recognising his career.

Its museum has also hosted virtual events on women who achieved historic Oscars milestones, including a talk with Buffy Sainte-Marie - the first Indigenous person to win an Oscar for best original song in 1983.

"We didn't want to erase films and artists and moments that may be uncomfortable. We wanted to confront them and contextualise them throughout all of our core gallery spaces," Bill Kramer, then the museum's director, told AFP ahead of its opening last year.

The Academy faced criticism for its handling of Smith's assault on comedian Rock during this year's ceremony.

Smith - who went on to win the Best Actor award - marched on stage and hit Rock for making a joke about his wife in an incident that overshadowed the March ceremony broadcast live around the world.

The upcoming event with Littlefeather dubbed a "very special program of conversation, reflection, healing, and celebration" will take place on 17 September.


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