Flashback Friday: When Marlon Brando took a deeply political stand by not accepting Oscar for The Godfather

Marlon Brando made a strong political statement when he refused to accept the Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather at the 45th Academy Awards in 1973 and instead sent actress and the President of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, Sacheen Littlefeather to deliver his controversial speech. 
Marlon Brando won the Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather at the 45th Academy Awards in 1973.Marlon Brando won the Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather at the 45th Academy Awards in 1973.
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In 1973, at the 45th Academy Awards, veteran actor Marlon Brando had the resurrection of a lifetime with his most memorable performance - the ruthless, cunning and violent Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972). It came as no surprise that Liv Ullman and Roger Moore announced Mr. Brando's name as the recipient of the Best Actor Oscar. However, instead of Marlon, it was actress Sacheen Littlefeather, who took the stage and changed history in mere minutes. When offered the Oscar, Sacheen kept out her palm in front refusing to accept the Academy Awards and instead, started her speech, which was a 15-page letter by Marlon.

Decked in an Apache dress, Sacheen began, "Hello, my name is Sacheen Littlefeather. I'm Apache and the President of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. I'm representing Marlon Brando this evening and he 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 reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry," while some of the members in the crowd booed her."

"Excuse me...," Littlefeather stated to the audience as well as the millions watching at home and continued, "And on television, in movie reruns and also with 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 understandings will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando." The actress was met with both boos as well as applause as she walked away without the Oscar.

While the speech more or less explained Marlon Brando's controversial decision to refuse the Oscar, the late actor represented his stance for the Native Americans and their "disrespected" representation in Hollywood. As for the Wounded Knee incident, 200 Oglala Lakota along with AIM (American Indian Movement) seized Wounded Knee, South Dakota as a protest for the failure to impeach tribal president Richard Wilson as well as US government's failure treaties with Native Americans.

During an interview on The Dick Cavett Show, when quizzed about the infamous Oscar stint, Marlon reasoned, "I don't think that people genuinely realise what motion picture industry has done to the American Indians. As a matter of fact, all ethnic groups."

"People actually don't realise how deeply these people are injured by seeing themselves represented, not so much the adults as they already endured 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 with only a negative image of themselves and it lasts a lifetime," Brando concluded.

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Eventually, Sacheen was blacklisted by the Hollywood community but continued to be an activist for Native Americans' rights. In 2018, Littlefeather was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer but she still continues to fight the fight. Marlon passed away in 2004, owing to respiratory failure from pulmonary fibrosis with congestive heart failure. The fight for ethnic group continues on with the recent #OscarsSoWhite controversy taking center stage, with Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith boycotting the Oscars, taking inspiration from Sacheen. Recently, Joaquin Phoenix even brought up the ill-representation of POC actors in the nominations list during his Best Actor speech for Joker at BAFTAs 2020. It's a long battle but credits to Mr. Brando and Ms. Littlefeather to make such a strong political statement. It was an offer, he did refuse!

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