When Sacheen Littlefeather spoke out against Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans at the 1973 Academy Awards, he was booed on stage and blacklisted from the film industry.
Nearly 50 years later, the Apache and Yaqui actor and activist said he would do it again “in a heartbeat.”
In an interview with Variety ahead of his appearance at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures this weekend, Littlefeather reflected on the famous 60-second speech he gave when he turned down an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando.
“I didn’t quite do that for Marlon. I didn’t do this in my own name,” he said in the publication. “I did this everywhere that suffered from racial prejudice and discrimination. I did it for everyone born under the umbrella of genocide, in the United States and Canada, and for everyone who has suffered extreme stereotypes that we did not choose.”
Littlefeather also discussed how the entertainment world shunned him after his speech, referring to the Wounded Knee massacre. That same year, members of the American Indian Movement occupied the South Dakota town, but were met with resistance from federal laws.
“(The FBI) went around Hollywood and told people not to hire him. If they did, they’d shut down their movie production,” he said. they took it. They could go there and talk about me, but they never let me go with them and represent myself.”
Brando, unlike many in the industry, remained an ally. The two met because of Brando’s interest in Indigenous issues and Littlefeather said he appreciated the actor’s “ability to see through the craziness and prejudice”.
“He understood racial prejudice in a way that most people don’t, and that was refreshing to me,” he added.
Littlefeather’s comments come about a month after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said she apologized for the abuse she suffered during and after her speech. On Saturday, the Academy is hosting a conversation with Littlefeather in an event that will also feature other indigenous performers and speakers.