In 1973, Marlon Brando won the Oscar for his performance in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, but he refused to accept the award. Instead, Sacheen Littlefeather took the stage to decline the award on the actor's behalf, citing "the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television in movie reruns." She was met with boos, racist gestures, and threats of violence.
At only 26 years old, Littlefeather became the first Native woman to grace the Academy Awards stage, and her short but powerful speech has become one of the most memorable moments in the history of the awards show. It's even featured in the Academy museum's Academy Awards History gallery.
However, not all were supportive of Littlefeather. In the five decades since, she has faced verbal attacks and harassment as well as discrimination and professional boycotts. Now, after nearly 50 years, the Academy has released a public apology to Littlefeather, now 75, and plans to host a special program, "An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather," at the Academy Museum on September 17.
In the letter, Academy president David Rubin wrote that the apology has been "a long time coming" and that the abuse Littlefeather has faced is "unwarranted and unjustified."
"Today, nearly 50 years later, and with the guidance of the Academy's Indigenous Alliance, we are firm in our commitment to ensuring indigenous voices — the original storytellers — are visible, respected contributors to the global film community," Rubin said.
In response, Littlefeather said in a statement, "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."
"I never thought I'd live to see the day for this program to take place," she continued. "This is a dream come true. It is profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago. I am so proud of each and every person who will appear on stage."
The program is described as "an evening of conversation, reflection, healing, and celebration." It will also feature Native television and producer, Bird Runningwater, and Native performers.
Tickets are free to the public and available on the Academy Museum website.
Kirstie Renae is a writer, blogger, and Austin-based actress with a penchant for binge-watching TV with her dogs. Follow her on Twitter @KirstieRenae.