WASHINGTON — Sacheen Littlefeather, known for taking the stage at the 1973 Academy Awards on behalf of Marlon Brando, has died at age 75.
The Academy confirmed Littlefeather's death on Twitter on Sunday night.
Her death comes a few months after the Academy issued a formal apology to Littlefeather nearly 50 years after she took the stage.
When Brando won best actor for “The Godfather,” Littlefeather, wearing buckskin dress and moccasins, took the stage, becoming the first Native American woman ever to do so at the Academy Awards. In a 60-second speech, she explained that Brando could not accept the award due to “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry."
Some in the audience booed her. John Wayne, who was backstage at the time, was reportedly furious. The 1973 Oscars were held during the American Indian Movement's two-month occupation of Wounded Knee in South Dakota. In the years since, Littlefeather has said she's been mocked, discriminated against and personally attacked for her brief Academy Awards appearance.
In making the announcement of the apolody, the Academy Museum shared a letter sent June 18 to Littlefeather by David Rubin, academy president, about the iconic Oscar moment. Rubin called Littlefeather's speech “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,” wrote 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.”
Littlefeather, in a statement, had said it was “profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago.”
“Regarding the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are very patient people — it’s only been 50 years!” said Littlefeather. “We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.”