However, the Academy Awards at least have a more embarrassing, disturbing, and disheartening precedent. We must go back to 1973, when Marlon Brando He won the Best Actor Award for The Godfather. He did not go to take his figurine. In his place took the podium Sacheen Littlefeather: A Native American girl meticulously taught by Brando how to act.
She had to refuse to touch her award and had to read a letter the actor had written a few hours earlier. Eight pages of honest speech intended to raise public awareness of the condition of the Native Americans, a battle so dear to him.
However, Little Feather could only speak for a moment. The chorus of boos and “boo” the stars present there were, mixed with some applause. truly, John Wayne He was angry and six security guards had to arrest him because he wanted to go to her and force her away from the microphone.
When it happens all over the world Sacheen Littlefeather He was 27 years old. He had met Marlon Brando a few months earlier. The girl worked for a local radio station in San Francisco and shared the battles that Native Americans fought between the 1960s and 1970s over topics such as acting in audiovisual productions and sports. He lived near Francis Ford Coppola and rotated frequently. One day he had the courage to ask him if Marlon Brando, who in those years was also prominent in his social battles, was really interested in Native American rights. Coppola called them and the girl received a call from Marlon Brando on his radio show confirming his thoughts on these issues.
Thus a friendship with Littlefeather was born, who was also trying his way into the world of television and cinema. And so Brando decided to involve her in his Oscar rejection (he would have preferred to win) to get the media’s attention to the facts of Wounded Knee. In those days, the South Dakota Reservation was occupied by the American Indian movement in protest of the murder of a Lakota Sioux man. This same place was, in 1890, the subject of a massacre by the US Army. More rights, different treatment and respect for treaties were requested. But the protests against the federal government and its policies toward Native Americans were ignored by the media, and failed to highlight the important actions that were taking place.
The political work at the Academy Awards forced the press to talk about it but it cost Littlefeather his career and his reputation. Lies spread about him. Immediately after his speech, the most diverse hypotheses blossomed: Was it all a play? Was she a paid actress or even a stripper? None of that, of course, but Hollywood closed all doors for it.
What happened that night of the Oscars?
Today we are accustomed to letters of political acceptance. Actors and actresses who use the time available to raise awareness of issues they hold dear. An attitude of this sort is beloved by the Academy, which in recent years has radically increased its interest in the reality of minorities, equality and representation of minorities.
In 1973, things were different. The prize was won, thanks, etc. We were talking about cinema, not politics. Furthermore, it was the first year that the Academy Awards were broadcast via satellite outside the United States, with an astounding audience of 85 million viewers connected.
A few hours before the awards ceremony, Littlefeather was at Brando’s house who entrusted her with the speech, explicitly recommending that she not touch the statuette at any cost. Once the show started, the evening’s producer approached her and told her that she would only have 60 seconds and that she couldn’t read the entire letter. So he had to improvise: he went up on stage, rejecting the statuette from Roger Moore’s hands, without even touching it. He faced unusual violence at the Oscars, as the divided audience interrupted his speech to cheers. But the worst was not captured by the cameras.
I managed to say a few words before I interrupted her:
My name is Sacheen Littlefeather. I’m Apache and I’m the chair of the US National Friendly Portrait Committee. Tonight I am representing Marlon Brando who asked me to tell you in a long letter, which I cannot share with you due to time, but I would like to give it later to the press, which unfortunately cannot accept this award. The reason is the film and television industry’s treatment of American Indians today and with the recent events at Wounded Knee (…)
After 60 seconds, Littlefeather is thrown backstage where some people imitate the stereotypical screams of Native Americans during the war. Others imitated Tomahawk strikes.
To add to what today would be considered a real catastrophe for the academy’s image, he was angry Clint Eastwood who took to the stage soon after and taunted the girl. Before announcing the Godfather Oscar for Best Picture, he stated:
Perhaps I should give this award on behalf of all the cowboys who have been murdered in all of West John Ford over the years.
The full letter by Marlon Brando, published by the New York Times in the following days, took the massacres of history head-on, accusing “fraudulent treaties” not kept, with a call to lay down their arms and live in peace all. .
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