Sacheen Littlefeather, the Native American actress and activist who turned down Marlon Brando’s best actor Oscar in 1973, died Sunday night, according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was 75 years old.
Littlefeather’s death was posted on the academy’s Twitter account. Although no cause of death was revealed, numerous news outlets reported that Littlefeather had breast cancer.
Sacheen Littlefeather, Native American civil rights activist who famously declined Marlon Brando’s 1973 Best Actor Academy Award, dies at 75. pic.twitter.com/OlpsoItlCw
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) October 3, 2022
Littlefeather was born Marie Louise Cruz on November 14, 1946, in Salinas, California. She changed her name in her 20s when she researched her Native American background and became an activist.
She produced one of the most spectacular moments in Oscar history on March 27, 1973. Littlefeather walked to the stage wearing moccasins and a buckskin dress as Brando’s name was read for winning best actor for his work in The Godfather to humbly deliver Brando’s condolences for accepting the prize due to Hollywood’s treatment and portrayal of Native Americans.
Her acceptance speech on behalf of Brando was welcomed with a mix of boos and cheers. According to The Los Angeles Times, she observed actor John Wayne being restrained from storming the stage when she was performing.
NPR’s Mandalit Del Barco reported in August an interview Littlefeather made to member station KQED in 2020 about the speech and its aftermath.
“People were profiting from the Hollywood Indian’s prejudice. They’re going to boo, of course. They do not want their evening to be disrupted.”
A squad of security agents pulled Littlefeather offstage at the Oscars. She claimed Hollywood had been boycotting her for years, referring to her as “red-listed.”
The academy publicly apologized to Littlefeather for the abuse she suffered due to her Oscars presentation earlier this year, over 50 years later. Former academy President David Rubin recognized the “unwarranted and unjustifiable” insults she endured in a June letter.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Brando regretted the situation he had put Littlefeather in. “I was upset that people booed, whistled, and stomped, even if it was probably meant at myself,” he told then-talk show host Dick Cavett. “At the very least, they should have listened to her.”
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