An actress and Native American activist named Sacheen Littlefeather was booed off stage at the Oscars nearly 50 years ago. The Academy has since apologised to her.
In 1973, she made an on-camera appearance to decline an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando, who had won the category for best actor for The Godfather.
Because the US film industry misrepresents Native Americans, Brando declined the honour.
Littlefeather was subjected to “unwarranted and unjustified” abuse, according to the Academy.
“I never thought I’d live to see the day I would be hearing this,” she reportedly said to the Hollywood Reporter.
Littlefeather, who had given a brief speech at the Oscars ceremony and was 26 at the time, was jeered at and shunned by the entertainment industry.
By making the first political comment at the broadcast ceremony, she allegedly created a trend that has continued to this day, according to the organisers.
She gave a brief introduction and stated that she was speaking on behalf of Brando, who had “a very long speech” written and “that he very, unfortunately, cannot receive this very great prize.”
She brought up the recent events at Wounded Knee, where there had been a violent standoff with federal agents at a place that was very important to the Sioux people. She received sporadic cheers as well as boos from the audience.
The production team for the award ceremony gave Littlefeather the instruction to keep Brando’s remarks, which were substantially longer, to 60 seconds.
85 million televisions received the telecast. After the event, various media outlets claimed that Littlefeather was not a real Native American and had instead agreed to the speech to further her acting career. Her status as Brando’s mistress was rumoured.
Littlefeather will discuss her presence at the 1973 Oscars and the future of indigenous representation in film at an event hosted by the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in September.
She responded to the apology, “We Indians are extremely patient people,” saying that it had just been 50 years. She added that maintaining a sense of humour is “our method of survival.”