In 1972, a gritty mobster movie was all the rage. The Godfather, despite its running time of over three hours, was a huge hit all over the nation.
The next year, when the Academy Awards show was televised, there was a lot of buzz in the air about the movie. As it turned out, Cabaret was the big scene-stealer at the Oscars, winning most of the statuettes when running head-to-head against The Godfather. So the team behind the film, as well as ardent fans who were tuned in, were thrilled when the Best Actor award was announced and Marlon Brando’s name was heard.
What happened next caused the audience in attendance, as well as the one tuned in on TV, to gasp.
Instead of Mr. Brando, a young lady wearing a leather outfit decorated in Native American beadwork walked out, carrying a piece of paper. The crowd sat in stunned silence.
The woman stood at the podium and said these words:
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… very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reason for this being… the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry… 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… in the future…our hearts and our understanding will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando.
The crowd let out a mixture of applause and as boos. The woman, named Sacheen Little Feather, turned and walked off stage.
John Wayne was backstage, and had to be restrained from storming onto the stage and forcefully removing her.
Little Feather had a longer speech that Brando wanted read, but she was told by Oscar staff backstage that if she did, she would be arrested. She was intimidated by the ridiculous threat, so instead, she spoke the above words.
Brando wasn’t at the ceremony. He was up in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, supporting the American Indian movement as they occupied the small town as a statement of what they had been going through.
Look for a reminiscence about the AIM and what they were up to in a future column.
Brando’s (and Little Feather’s) actions received much criticism, but now, all these years later, opinion seems to have shifted to support. There’s no doubt about it, Amerinds have received some of the most heinous treatment in history. One governmental break that they have caught since then is the ability to run casinos in many areas of the nation.
It must feel good taking money from the ancestors of many who caused their own ancestors so much agony.