Sacheen Littlefeather (1946- ), a Native American activist and actress, is best known for refusing an Academy Award on behalf of Marlon Brando in 1973. He had won Best Actor for playing Don Corleone in “The Godfather” (1972), his most famous role. Brando thought it better to go to the stand-off at Wounded Knee between AIM and the FBI than to go to the Oscars.
She came up on stage dressed in her Northern Traditional powwow dance outfit, refused the Oscar and then said in part:
“He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry (boos, applause) and on television in movie reruns and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”
Russel Means, who was at Wounded Knee at the time, said of that moment:
“We don’t believe we’re going to get out of there alive and the morale is down low, and Marlon Brando and Sacheen Littlefeather totally uplifted our lives.”
As it turns out, she was winging it: Brando had given her a speech to read, but the producer threatened to arrest her if she went over 60 seconds. She did read the speech later to the press. The New York Times printed it in full. It said in part:
“the motion picture community has been as responsible as any for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing his as savage, hostile and evil. It’s hard enough for children to grow up in this world. When Indian children watch television, and they watch films, and when they see their race depicted as they are in films, their minds become injured in ways we can never know.”
She said that afterwards the FBI leaned on Hollywood to blacklist her.
In 1972, the year before the Oscars, in what she now admits was a “dumb” move, she posed for Playboy. It was for a spread called “Ten Little Indians”, featuring ten Native women. Playboy never ran it because of Wounded Knee, but they did use some of her pictures in their October 1973 issue (just as Cher’s song “Half-Breed” went to number one on the US pop charts).
She took part in the Occupation of Alcatraz, where she met John Trudell, Adam Fortunate Eagle and others. She became an activist. That is how Brando met her. Since the 1980s she has been a healer.
Some say she is a Fake Indian. She was mainly brought up by her mother’s Caucasian family and called herself Maria Cruz, her birth name, till she went to California State University at Hayward. There she hung out with Chicano students, but later explored her Native identity and took the name Sacheen Littlefeather. Her father was a full-blood Indian of mixed White Mountain Apache and Yaqui descent. She now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she is a highly respected member of the Native American community.
– Abagond, 2016.
- YouTube: Oscars: Marlon Brando’s Oscar win for the “The Godfather” – watch the video
- Fake Indians
- Wounded Knee stand-off
- Russell Means
- Oregon stand-off
- The Occupation of Alcatraz