By Rich McKay
(Reuters) – Half a century ago, actor and activist Sacheen Littlefeather took the stage in a traditional buckskin dress at the Academy Awards show to turn down an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando.
She was booed off the stage at the 1973 ceremony after 60 seconds for the comments, which drew attention to the protest of an indigenous population in Wounded Knee, South Dakota. After that, she was professionally boycotted by the film industry for decades.
On Saturday night, Littlefeather, now 75, received thunderous applause as she took the stage to reflect on her protest at an event in her honor at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles.
“Well, I made it. It took 50 years,” she said.
The event, “An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather,” featured live performances by Native Americans and was streamed on the museum’s YouTube page.
Her boyfriend Brando boycotted the 45th Academy Awards because of the stereotypes of Native Americans in movies and television. The Best Actor winner for portraying Vito Corleone in “The Godfather” asked Littlefeather to attend in his place.
In addition to the boos, Littlefeather reminisced on Saturday, people making tomahawk chop moves and mocking “Indian” whoops. “Big John Wayne was ready to attack me. He had to be stopped by six guards,” she said.
Saturday’s program included reading a letter of apology to Littlefeather for her treatment by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“When you stood on the Oscar stage in 1973 to not accept the Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, in recognition of the film industry’s misrepresentation and mistreatment of Native American people, you made a powerful statement that will continue to remember us. to the need for respect and the importance of human dignity,” the letter reads.
She replied, “I accept this apology not only for me alone, but an acknowledgment not only for me, but for our entire (Indian) people. Our nation needs to hear this apology.”
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by William Mallard)