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The night Marlon went missing: the Academy issues apology for 1973 Oscars

Sacheen Littlefeather turned down Marlon Brando’s Oscar for ‘The Godfather’ 50 years ago and was blacklisted for it

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Sacheen Littlefeather appears at the Academy Awards ceremony to announce that Marlon Brando was declining his Oscar as best actor for his role in “The Godfather,” on March 27, 1973. The move was meant to protest Hollywood’s treatment of American Indians. Nearly 50 years later, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has apologized to Littlefeather for the abuse she endured. The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on Monday said that it will host Littlefeather, now 75, for an evening of “conversation, healing and celebration” on Sept. 17.

Associated Press

Marlon Brando faced steep competition on the night of the 1973 Academy Awards. In the running for best actor were Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, Peter O’Toole and Paul Winfield.

Bob Fosse’s “Cabaret” had been sweeping the categories, winning best director, best actress (Liza Minnelli), best cinematography and others. There was another iconic movie in contention that night, however: Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather.”

Consistently ranked as one of the greatest movies of all time, it was no surprise then, that Brando was awarded an Oscar for his portrayal of the titular character Don Vito Corleone. But it wasn’t Brando that stepped into the spotlight that night.

Instead, a 26-year-old Sacheen Littlefeather took the stage. She calmly stated that Brando will not accept the award because of “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.” By this time, both applause and booing was heard from the star-studded audience.

After mentioning the “recent happenings at Wounded Knee,” she ended her short speech with the hope that “in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity.”

According to People, she had been threatened with arrest if she went over 60 seconds, and was ushered off the stage where two security guards were waiting. It was for the best, she said, because a furious John Wayne was being restrained by six men to stop him from a physical confrontation.

Now, almost 50 years later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has formally apologized for Littlefeather’s treatment that night. Former academy president David Rubin said in a letter “The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified. The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable.”

Now 75, Littlefeather responded to the letter with lightness, saying “we Indians are very patient people — it’s only been 50 years! We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.”

An event will be held on Sept. 17, “a program of conversation, reflection, healing, and celebration,” according to the announcement. Sadly, in an interview with the Guardian, Littlefeather broke the news that she has terminal breast cancer. “When I go to the spirit world, I’m going to take all these stories with me. But hopefully I can share some of these things while I’m here.”