Native American actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather, who made headlines when she turned down the Best Actor Oscar for Marlon Brando, has died at the age of 75.
On Monday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tweeted the news of her passing.
Along with a photo of the Apache and Yaqui actress, the tweet read, “Sacheen Littlefeather, Native American civil rights activist who famously denied Marlon Brando’s 1973 Best Actor Academy Award, dies at 75.”
Though the official cause of death was never revealed, Littlefeather revealed in a Facebook post from January of last year that she had metastatic breast cancer.
It was historic for Littlefeather to take the stage at the Oscars in 1973 on behalf of Brando, star of “The Godfather,” who had elected to skip the ceremony in protest over the portrayal of Native Americans in films. Brando was also responding to the federal government’s handling of the American Indian Movement’s occupation of the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee.
She gave a quick speech while dressed in buckskin and moccasins, and got both boos and applause. The aspiring actress lost her career as a result of being blacklisted from the film industry and rejected by the entertainment world; her previous film credits included “Winterhawk,” “Shoot the Sun Down,” and “The Trial of Billy Jack.”
The Academy issued a public apology to Littlefeather in the month of August for the way she was treated during her speech and the years that followed.
David Rubin, a past president of the Academy, wrote a letter to Littlefeather in which he called the treatment she had received “unwarranted and unfair.”
Additionally, he said, “The mental weight you have lived through and the damage to your own career in our profession are irreparable. Your bravery has gone unrecognized for far too long. Our sincerest apologies and highest praise are extended for this.
“We Indians are very patient people – it’s only been 50 years!” Littlefeather said after hearing the apology, “It’s like a dream come true.”
We must always remember to laugh at the situation. That’s how we make a living,” she went on.
Littlefeather was a keynote speaker at an event organized by the Academy last month at its film museum in Los Angeles, where other Indigenous performers also presented their work.