Marlon Brando’s Oscar-rejecting actor and activist Sacheen Littlefeather passes away at age 75.
Less than two months after the Academy apologized for treating the Native American activist at the 1973 Academy Awards, she passed away on Sunday.
The Academy of Motion Pictures revealed on Sunday that Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American activist known for famously turning down Marlon Brando’s Oscar for The Godfather, passed away at age 75.
Breast cancer has been a problem for Littlefeather.
On Sunday night, the Academy tweeted about her passing. According to a statement from her caregiver, which The Hollywood Reporter quoted, she passed away at midday on Sunday at her home in the Northern California city of Novato, surrounded by her loved ones.
In 1973, Marlon Brando won the best actor Oscar for his performance in The Godfather, yet, he chose to abstain from the ceremony to show his support for Native American rights. Brando was represented at the event by Littlefeather. The actor’s refusal to receive the prize, she said in a brief address, was partly a result of “the treatment of American Indians today by the film business… and on television, in movie reruns.”
Littlefeather, who was 26 at the time, received boos. She later claimed security personnel had to stop actor John Wayne from beating her backstage. Other people allegedly made inappropriate gestures backstage. After the ceremony, Hollywood put her on a blacklist.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences officially apologized to Littlefeather for their treatment of her in August.
Her presence was deemed “a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity” by the organisation organising the Oscars.
“The treatment you received due to this statement was unfair and unwarranted. You have suffered an irreversible loss to your career in our sector and emotional hardship. The courage you have shown has gone unnoticed for far too long. We sincerely apologise for this and thank you for your support.
Regarding the Academy’s apologies to me, Littlefeather retorted, “We Indians are pretty patient people – it’s only been 50 years! We must always maintain our sense of humour about this. It serves as our means of survival.
Littlefeather discussed her difficult upbringing in an interview with the Guardian in 2021. Daughter of an Apache and Yaqui father and a white mother, both of whom were mentally ill and unable to raise her, she was born in 1946. When she was three years old, her parents took her away, and her maternal grandparents raised her. When she was young, she recalled assaulting her father with a broom to stop him from hurting her mother. I believe it is when I truly started to become an activist.
After her father passed away when she was 17, Littlefeather started travelling to reservations in Arizona. “I had a breakthrough, getting back into our customs and past with other urban Indian people. Older elders who arrived from various reservations taught us younger people how to once again be Indian. It was excellent.
Early in her 20s, Littlefeather managed a Native American affirmative action group in her community, worked at a radio station in San Francisco, and researched representation in sports and the entertainment industry. Marlon Brando was lecturing about Native American rights when she heard him, so she wrote him a letter. A few months later, he called, and they grew close.
Littlefeather, a Native American elder who mentors younger people in cultural awareness, revealed in the same interview that she was “very, very ill” with breast cancer.
“I’ve been taking daily antibiotics in addition to chemotherapy for a while. My memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be as a result,” she remarked. “Cancer is a full-time job; the CT scans, MRIs, laboratory blood work, doctor visits, chemotherapy, infectious disease control specialists, etc., etc., leave me exhausted all the time. You need not apply for cancer if you are lazy.”
She mentioned death and added, “I’m going somewhere else. I’m travelling to my ancestors’ world. I’m leaving you because I deserve the freedom to be who I am.”
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