Almost 50 years later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is formally apologizing to Littlefeather for the mistreatment she experienced during her speech and in the years to follow.
“The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” Academy President David Rubin wrote in a letter to Littlefeather. “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.”
In a statement, Littlefeather called the upcoming event, during which she’ll receive the apology in person, “a dream come true.”
“Regarding the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are very patient people — it’s only been 50 years!” she said. “We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.”
Several Indigenous artists will perform during the event for Littlefeather, including Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance, and Virginia Carmelo, a descendent of the Tongva people who will lead a land acknowledgment.
“It is profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago,” Littlefeather said.
Her speech earned boos and applause
When Brando won best actor for his starring role in “The Godfather,” he was absent. In his stead, he asked Littlefeather, then an actress and activist, to attend the ceremony — and to refuse the award on his behalf.
After the ceremony, Littlefeather said she was “silenced” and struggled to find work in the film industry. She dedicated much of her career post-Oscars to activism and founding performing arts organizations for Indigenous actors.
Despite the condemnation she received from some in Hollywood who disagreed with her defenses of Native Americans, Littlefeather said she received praise and support from leaders like Coretta Scott King and Cesar Chavez.
“I knew I had done the right thing,” she told A.Frame.