Most will remember him as James Bond. We’d also like to thank him for his lesser-known moments. In 1973, Academy members Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann awarded the Oscar for Lead Actor to Marlon Brando, who famously sent Sacheen Littlefeather to decline it.
Sacheen Littlefeather rejects the Academy Award for Best Actor on behalf of Marlon Brando , who boycotted the 1973 Oscars in support of the American Indian Movement’s armed standoff with U.S. Marshals and the FBI at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
I don’t think that people generally realise what motion picture industry has done to the American Indian, as a matter of fact, all ethnic groups, all minorities, all non-whites. And people just simply don’t realise, just take it for granted that that’s the way people are going to be presented and these clichés are just, I mean on this network every night, well perhaps not every night, but you can see silly renditions of human behaviour, the leering Filipino houseboy, the wily Japanese, the kook or the gook, black man, stupid Indian. It just goes on and on and on. And people actually don’t realise how deeply people are injured by seeing themselves represented, not so much the adults, who are already inured to that kind of pain and pressure, but children. Indian children seeing Indians represented as savage, as ugly, as nasty, vicious, treacherous, drunken. They grow up only with a negative image of themselves and it lasts a lifetime.
Marlon Brando on why Sacheen Littlefeather presented a speech on his behalf during his Best Actor win for The Godfather at the 1973 Academy Awards
“We cannot break bread with you. You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the road sides, you will play golf, and enjoy hot hors d'oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said, “Do not trust the Pilgrims, especially Sarah Miller. And for all these reasons I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground.”
Marlon Brando won the Oscar for Best Actor (THE GODFATHER). He did not accept the award. Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American, was there at the ceremony to reject the award…
The Unfinished Oscar Speech
By MARLON BRANDO
March 27, 1973
“For 200 years we have said to the Indian people who are fighting for their land, their life, their families and their right to be free: ’‘Lay down your arms, my friends, and then we will remain together. Only if you lay down your arms, my friends, can we then talk of peace and come to an agreement which will be good for you.”
When they laid down their arms, we murdered them. We lied to them. We cheated them out of their lands. We starved them into signing fraudulent agreements that we called treaties which we never kept. We turned them into beggars on a continent that gave life for as long as life can remember. And by any interpretation of history, however twisted, we did not do right. We were not lawful nor were we just in what we did. For them, we do not have to restore these people, we do not have to live up to some agreements, because it is given to us by virtue of our power to attack the rights of others, to take their property, to take their lives when they are trying to defend their land and liberty, and to make their virtues a crime and our own vices virtues.
But there is one thing which is beyond the reach of this perversity and that is the tremendous verdict of history. And history will surely judge us. But do we care? What kind of moral schizophrenia is it that allows us to shout at the top of our national voice for all the world to hear that we live up to our commitment when every page of history and when all the thirsty, starving, humiliating days and nights of the last 100 years in the lives of the American Indian contradict that voice?
It would seem that the respect for principle and the love of one’s neighbor have become dysfunctional in this country of ours, and that all we have done, all that we have succeeded in accomplishing with our power is simply annihilating the hopes of the newborn countries in this world, as well as friends and enemies alike, that we’re not humane, and that we do not live up to our agreements.
Perhaps at this moment you are saying to yourself what the hell has all this got to do with the Academy Awards? Why is this woman standing up here, ruining our evening, invading our lives with things that don’t concern us, and that we don’t care about? Wasting our time and money and intruding in our homes.
I think the answer to those unspoken questions is that the motion picture community has been as responsible as any for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing him as savage, hostile and evil. It’s hard enough for children to grow up in this world. When Indian children watch television, and they watch films, and when they see their race depicted as they are in films, their minds become injured in ways we can never know.
Recently there have been a few faltering steps to correct this situation, but too faltering and too few, so I, as a member in this profession, do not feel that I can as a citizen of the United States accept an award here tonight. I think awards in this country at this time are inappropriate to be received or given until the condition of the American Indian is drastically altered. If we are not our brother’s keeper, at least let us not be his executioner.
I would have been here tonight to speak to you directly, but I felt that perhaps I could be of better use if I went to Wounded Knee to help forestall in whatever way I can the establishment of a peace which would be dishonorable as long as the rivers shall run and the grass shall grow.
I would hope that those who are listening would not look upon this as a rude intrusion, but as an earnest effort to focus attention on an issue that might very well determine whether or not this country has the right to say from this point forward we believe in the inalienable rights of all people to remain free and independent on lands that have supported their life beyond living memory.
Thank you for your kindness and your courtesy to Miss Littlefeather. Thank you and good night.“
These words ring so true for all native land that have been colonised, raped, and pillaged by the “civilised man” who surely are the real savages. Africa. Australia. America. India. Palestine.
Years of dignity and time honoured traditions butchered by vulgarity, greed, and power. The paradox of life.
I had no idea this ever happened. It’s things like this that occur in history that are so awesome. Honestly, this is a whole movie in itself. Who is Sacheen Littlefeather? I want to know her life story now. This video is surreal. The courage she had going up there, up against a crowd she knew was against her-against a crowd that BOOED her! What a badass. The American spirit right here.
‘The ceremony was due to start…but there was a man. He was the producer of the whole show and he took that speech away from me, and he warned me very sternly, “I’ll give you 60 seconds or less. And if you go over that 60 seconds, I’ll have you arrested. I’ll have you put in handcuffs.”’ - Sacheen Littlefeather
“Marlon Brando’s Oscar® win for ” The Godfather" At the 1973 Academy Awards ceremony, Brando refused to accept the Oscar for his performance in The Godfather. Sacheen Littlefeather represented him at the ceremony. She appeared in full Apache attire and stated that owing to the “poor treatment of Native Americans in the film industry”, Brando would not accept the award. At this time, the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee occurred, causing rising tensions between the government and Native American activists. The event grabbed the attention of the US and the world media. This was considered a major event and victory for the movement by its supporters and participants.