Barrage BalloonNews of the Odd

Photo of barrage balloon from America from the Great Depression to World War II, at the Library of Congress.

Today in Odd History


Home of the Odd
News of the Odd
Today in Odd History
Links to the Odd
Shop of the Odd

Sacheen Littlefeather Refuses Brando's Oscar (March 27, 1973)

Sacheen Littlefeather, with Roger Moore and Liv UllmanToday in Odd History, a young woman in beaded doeskin took the stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in Los Angeles, California, to decline Marlon Brando's Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather. Her name, she said, was Sacheen Littlefeather, and she had a message from Marlon Brando.

"Marlon Brando ... has asked me to tell you, in a very long speech which I cannot share with you presently—because of time—but I will be glad to share with the press afterward, that he must... very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reason for this being... are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry… excuse me… and on television in movie re-runs, and also the recent happenings at Wounded Knee. I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that we will, in the future…our hearts and our understanding will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of The GodfatherMarlon Brando."

A few people applauded, but many more jeered. Some who saw the broadcast remember that Littlefeather was "booed off the stage." The incident colored the rest of the evening, with Clint Eastwood wondering whether he should present the award for Best Picture "on behalf of all the cowboys shot in John Ford westerns over the years," Raquel Welch saying, "I hope the winner doesn't have a cause," before announcing the winner of the Best Actress Oscar, and cohost Michael Caine criticizing Brando for "letting some poor little Indian girl take the boos," instead of "[standing] up and [doing] it himself."

Sacheen LittlefeatherAfter the ceremony, Littlefeather shared the full text of Brando's 15-page statement with the press. She had been forced to condense it dramatically after the producer threatened to have her removed from the stage if she spoke for more than 45 seconds. It said that the actor did not wish to "offend or diminish this occasion, but I do not feel that I can, as a citizen of the United States, accept this or any award. You are probably saying: 'What the hell does this have to do with the Academy Awards?' The answer is that the motion picture community as much as anyone has been responsible for degrading the Indian."

Hollywood was momentarily stunned, but almost immediately went on the offensive. Littlefeather was trivialized as a "gentle-voiced Apache maiden ... in shining braids, explaining as best she could why the most honored actor of the year was letting the chalice pass." Brando was accused of manipulating the press by, as John Wayne put it, "taking some little unknown girl and dressing her up in an Indian outfit." And then the media discovered that Littlefeather was an actress, whose birth name was Maria Cruz, and who had been Miss American Vampire in 1970. She was immediately labeled a "faux Apache," and is now largely remembered as an embarrasing footnote to the otherwise glorious tale of Oscar.

Sacheen Littlefeather todayThe truth about Sacheen Littlefeather is more complex, though. While Hollywood might have questioned her qualifications, she is, in fact, Native American: part Apache, part Yaqui, part Pueblo and part Caucasian. "Littlefeather" is a name she used professionally, and still uses today. Her brief notoriety did result in a few film roles, and an appearance in Playboy, but her career did not last long. She has never given up her activism (indeed, she credits her mention of Wounded Knee with bringing her to the attention of the FBI, who she believes ended her film career). She promotes a number of Native American causes, encouraging Native Americans to work in Hollywood, fighting to combat alcoholism, obesity and diabetes among Native Americans, and caring for Native Americans with AIDS, her brother among them. She is also the coordinator of the Kateri Circle of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which blends Native American spirituality with Catholic ritual, in honor of Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th century Algonquin maiden beatified by Pope John Paul II.

Brando is uncomfortable talking about Sacheen Littlefeather, but she remembers him with some fondness. "He helped me to become an infamous person," she says. "It definitely put me on the map."

Picture of Sacheen Littlefeather, Roger Moore and Liv Ullman from People
Picture of Marlon Brando as The Godfather from IMDB
Picture of Sacheen Littlefeather at the Oscars from Oscar's Checkered Past, at InfoPlease
Picture of Sacheen Littlefeather today from 1st Annual Inter-Tribal Woman's Conference

Sacheen Cruz Littlefeather: About Me
Turtle Tracks, Issue 87: Native People Empowered
Stanford Today: Like a Hurricane
Who2 Loop: Oscar Night Gaffs
Skeletons in the Closet: Brando Disses Oscar
Sacheen Littlefeather, Activist, from People
My Two Beads Worth
Indian Women as Sex Objects
Talking Pictures, Review of The Oscars: The Secret History of Hollywood's Academy Awards
The Wolf Files: Oscar Blooper Hall of Fame
E! Online Fact Sheet: Marlon Brando
Sacheen Littlefeather, at IMDB
Welcome to the San Francisco Kateri Circle
Catholic Encyclopedia
The Oddfather, from Rolling Stone

Native American stereotypes in film:
Celluloid Indians Celluloid Indians: Native Americans and Film, by Jacquelyn Kilpatrick
Kilpatrick looks at the way that dominant American culture has both positive and negative portrayals of Native Americans to justify its conquest of North America and to reinforce the status quo.


The Oscars in Depth:
70 Years of the Oscar70 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards, by Robert Osborne
This is the Academy's own tribute to the most coveted award in Hollywood. Osborne not only presents lists of the winners and nominees for each year, but also describes the political climate and social trends that prevailed in every decade. The book also includes essays by former winners, describing their favorite Oscar moments. Illustrated with still and posters.


Get the best deal, every time, at DealTime! — The World's Largest Poster & Print Store!
Find a book signed by your favorite author at Alibris!
Search the Web Search News of the Odd

All content is © 2002-2003 Chia Evers, unless otherwise noted, but may be freely copied and redistributed, so long as proper credit is given and all links to this site are left intact. News of the Odd and Today in Odd History are ™ Chia Evers. All other logos, trademarks and news photos are the property of their respective owners. Permission to reproduce articles posted on this site may be obtained here. News of the Odd will never sell, rent or otherwise reveal your email address.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.