Sacheen Littlefeather: actress responds to Oscars speech apology and John Wayne ‘abuse’ claims explained

Sacheen Littlefeather: actress responds to Oscars speech apology and John Wayne ‘abuse’ claims explained

Actress Sacheen Littlefeather has formally accepted the apology she was given from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences around three months ago.

The apology was given to Littlefeather in June, almost 50 years after she received abuse for speaking on stage at the Academy Awards.

The actress, who is also a Native American civil rights activist, was speaking on behalf of Marlon Brando about the depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood films at the awards in 1973 when the incident happened.

The 1973 Oscars were held during the American Indian Movement’s two-month occupation of Wounded Knee in South Dakota, and the speech was intended to highlight these events.

So, just what happened during the 1973 Oscars ceremony, what did the Academy say to Littlefeather and how did she respond?

Here’s everything you need to know.

Native American civil rights activist and actress Sacheen Littlefeather has received an apology from the Academy after she was abused during the 1973 Oscars awards ceremony. (Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images)

What happened during the 1973 Oscars?

During the 1973 Oscars ceremony, on 27 March, Marlon Brando won best actor for The Godfather.

When Brando’s winn was announced Littlefeather, who was wearing a buckskin dress and moccasins, took the stage.

In doing so, she was the first Native American woman ever to do so at the Academy Awards.

In a 60-second speech, she explained that Brando was refusing the award due to "the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry”.

Some in the audience booed her while she was speaking, although there were some sounds of support also.

Littlefeather was then escorted to the wings by James Bond actor Roger Moore.

What happened between Sacheen Littlefeather and actor John Wayne?

Actor John Wayne, who was backstage at the time, was reportedly furious at Littlefeather for her speech.

In many of his films, he starred as a cowboy who was at odds with Indigenous characters.

Littlefeather herself has said he took particular offence to her speech.

She told The Guardian in 2021: “During my presentation, he was coming towards me to forcibly take me off the stage, and he had to be restrained by six security men to prevent him from doing so.”

What happened after the 1973 Oscars?

In the 49 years since the incident, Littlefeather said she’s been mocked, discriminated against and personally attacked for her brief Academy Awards appearance.

What did the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences say?

The Academy Museum shared a letter sent on Saturday 18 June to Littlefeather by David Rubin, academy president, about her speech.

Rubin called Littlefeather’s speech "a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity”.

He said: “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.

“For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration."

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures said on Monday 15 August that it will host Littlefeather, now aged 75, for an evening of conversation, healing and celebration on Saturday 17 September.

What has Sacheen Littlefeather said in response?

At the evening of conversation, healing and celebration, Littlefeather formally accepted the apology.

In response to the apology letter issued by then-Academy president David Rubin, Littlefeather said: “I am here accepting this apology. Not only for me alone, but as acknowledgement, knowing that it was not only for me but for all of our nations that also need to hear and deserve this apology tonight.

“Now, I would like all the Indian people in this audience to stand. Look at our people, look at each other and be proud that we stand as survivors, all of us.

“Please, when I’m gone, always be reminded that whenever you stand for your truth, you will be keeping my voice and the voices of our nations and our people alive.

“I remain Sacheen Littlefeather. Thank you.”

At the time of the apology in June, Littlefeather also expressed her happiness in her mistreatment being acknowledged, nearly five decades after the abuse happened.

She released a statement to express her joy.

She said: “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.”

She added: “Regarding the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are very patient people -  it’s only been 50 years.

"We need to keep our sense of humour about this at all times. It’s our method of survival."

Who is Sacheen Littlefeather?

Sacheen Littlefeather, whose full name is Marie Louise Cruz, is an American actress, model, and Native American civil rights activist.

Littlefeather was born to a Native American father and a European American mother on 14 November 1946, which means she is now 75 years old.

Littlefeather starred in films The Laughing Policeman (1973), The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) and Johnny Firecloud (1975).

She has previously stated that after rejecting Brando’s Oscar, she felt she was blacklisted from the entertainment industry.

After appearing in Shoot the Sun Down in 1978, Littlefeather didn’t act in an onscreen project again.