In 1973, Marlon Brando won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Vito Corleone in The Godfather.
However, Brando was not present at the ceremony to receive his award.
Instead, Sacheen Littlefeather, a 26-year-old Native American civil rights activist, appeared on stage in traditional dress to reject the award on Brando’s behalf.
She explained that the actor could not accept the award due to the film industry’s treatment of Native Americans, as well as the occupation of Wounded Knee by Native American activists.
Littlefeather had been at Brando’s house earlier that night, where he had written an eight-page speech for her to read on his behalf.
However, due to time constraints, Littlefeather was only able to deliver a brief message before being escorted off stage by armed guards.
During her speech, half the crowd cheered while the other half booed.
John Wayne, a Western movie star whose characters regularly killed Native Americans, was reportedly outraged by Littlefeather’s speech.
According to Littlefeather, Wayne had to be restrained by six security guards as he attempted to pull her off stage.
Despite the controversy, Wayne was able to keep his awards.
Littlefeather, however, claimed that Hollywood blacklisted her after the incident.
She said that she discovered people backstage doing stereotypical impressions of Native Americans, which she found distressing.
Littlefeather’s Native American heritage has been questioned by some, but she maintained that she was of Apache and Yaqui descent.
She said that she was proud to have drawn attention to the media blackout surrounding the occupation of Wounded Knee.
Brando himself later expressed disappointment that people had booed and whistled during Littlefeather’s speech.
He said that they should have listened to her instead.
Littlefeather said that she became friends with Brando after the incident.
She described him as intelligent and entertaining, with a great sense of humor.
However, she denied that they were ever romantically involved.
The Godfather went on to win two more Oscars that night, including Best Picture.
Clint Eastwood presented the award, jokingly saying that he didn’t know if he should present it on behalf of all the cowboys shot in John Ford westerns over the years.