Associated Press
Backstage at the 1973 Oscars: Sacheen Littlefeather holding the speech Marlon Brando had asked her to give.

The Oscars' All-Time Most Outrageous Moment—and What It Meant

ICTMN Staff
3/2/14

Tonight is Oscar night, and amid all the chatter about red carpet looks and favorites to win, there is always some reminiscing about memorable ceremonies past, and particularly which moments will never be forgotten. 

The ceremony has seen a streaker (behind David Niven, 1974), and old dude doing pushups (Jack Palance, 1992) and a famous case of surprisingly low self-esteem (Sally Field, "You like me," 1984) -- but nothing touches Sacheen Littlefeather's stand-in appearance for Marlon Brando. Brando, long a friend to Native American causes, declined his Best Actor Oscar for his performance as Don Corleone in The Godfather, and sent the young actress and activist to deliver a statement in his stead. Brando had tasked Littlefeather with making a lengthy speech that would never have fit into the allotted time; the remarks Littlefeather did manage to share (interrupted at one point by simultaneous boos and applause) were eloquent and humble. Here is a clip:

Littlefeather brought up two points. One was Hollywood's long tradition of portraying Indians in a negative light, as evildoers or savages, ever the bad guys to be bested by virtuous cowboys and cavalry -- and to those who'd argue, in 1973, that we were living in more enlightened times, Littlefeather mentioned re-runs shown on TV, racist propaganda that was still being broadcast despite some progress in the contemporary film industry. (One might wonder what Marlon Brando would say about the Encore Western channel, which continues to show movies that have been condemned as racist.) Littlefeather also mentioned a then-current event that would come to be known as the Wounded Knee Incident -- a takeover of the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation by Oglala Lakota and American Indian Movement followers. The action was tied to the Pine Ridge population's attempts to remove Chairman Richard Wilson from office, but what ensued was a standoff between armed Indians and U.S. government forces that rallied American Indians nationwide and elicited sympathy from many non-Natives.

But what of the speech -- what did Brando want Littlefeather to say? Read on...

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
I NEVER thought I would agree with John Wayne on ANYTHING, but he was right about Brando. If Marlon Brando wanted to say something to help Native Americans he should have gotten up there to do so himself! Putting a young, unknown women in such an unfavorable spotlight was only detrimental to our causes. You would think that an relatively intelligent man like Brando would understand that his celebrity would have made the point much better.

chahta ohoyo's picture
chahta ohoyo
Submitted by chahta ohoyo on
OMG...do I 'remember' this mess....one of the shining pinnacles of ridiculous to ever be in a public venue....there were doubts that miss littlefeather was even native American...now, if marlon brando had just shown up, done a 'telecast', maybe all of his words would have been heard...those were the days...somehow we muddled thru....still doing two steps ahead and one step back, but progressing....

marten's picture
marten
Submitted by marten on
And today, the academy, at large, still resents Brando's action. So, who's in the academy? The Los Angeles Times featured an article on the demographics. And here they are: 94% WHITE 77% MALE 14% UNDER THE AGE OF 50. For further information, google it. There are 17 branches of voters. Some actors have done their darndest to help native american actors. But many native americans don't have the discipline to do the job. This hurts the actors who are trying to change the image of natives.

marten's picture
marten
Submitted by marten on
I should add that the article states that Blacks and Hispanic oscar voters accounted for only two per cent each. Native American actors should have a group meeting often. They should talk about their experiences. Stay positive, even in the face of racial prejudice. And try to learn more about the people you're dealing with, at all times.

rockymissouri's picture
rockymissouri
Submitted by rockymissouri on
Brando was a coward to send her. He should have delivered the message HIMSELF.

aliberaldoseofskepticism's picture
aliberaldoseofs...
Submitted by aliberaldoseofs... on
And the right-wingers still haven't stopped whining about Brando's stunt. Personally, I think it's what makes award shows interesting. These days, the <i>Avatar</i> movie (the one based on the Nickelodeon cartoon series, not the generally panned James Cameron 3D movie) actually led to activism about the use of white actors to play nonwhite characters. These days, the film industry should know fans care about this.

Larry Crehore's picture
Larry Crehore
Submitted by Larry Crehore on
While Marlon Brando had made some good points they were lessened by the fact that he didn't present them himself. Sacheen Littlefeather was duped into making his presentation because Brando was unwilling to be ridiculed by his peers. Her career suffered for his cowardice and that is tragedy Another Native American suffers for the white mans cowardice.

Sevinthseal's picture
Sevinthseal
Submitted by Sevinthseal on
I'm rather amazed that none of the commenters on here seem to know why Brando did not give this speech himself. He was making payment demands before the post-production of the Godfather was even completed, and then the studio offered him a percentage of the gross, he balked and insisted on a sum payment. The studios, already knowing this would fleece him financially were happy to agree. And when the Godfather became the Godfather, Brando was so extraordinarily livid that he refused to help promote the film, talk about the film or otherwise have any involvement with it. This was the reason he didn't show up at Oscar night. Those of you who've made the absurd notion that Brando was "afraid of criticism" cannot possibly have any clue about who Brando was as a person. If ever there was a man to walk this earth who could care less about the opinions of others, it was Marlon Brando. I'm baffled that someone could even suggest this, considering the man he was.

Herodotus's picture
Herodotus
Submitted by Herodotus on
The individuals here suggesting that Marlon Brando was a coward are incredibly off-base. The suggestion itself if laughable. If Brando decided it was better to send Ms. Littlefeather than go himself, he would definitely have had good reason to do it. Brando was amazingly courageous in real life--and always the champion of the underdog--from his boyhood defenses of Wally Cox against all bullies, to his defense of his mother from his abusive father, to his participation in the 1963 March on Washington with Martin Luther King, to his well-known advocacy and lavish philanthropy on behalf of civil rights, Native Americans, the environment . . . and on and on. He was warm and funny and incredibly gifted and generous and bright. A wonderful friend to many, including Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, and Jimmy Dean. Yes, Brando was a troubled soul because he endured so much abuse at a young age. But a coward? No. Not even close.

Herodotus's picture
Herodotus
Submitted by Herodotus on
The individuals here suggesting that Marlon Brando was a coward are incredibly off-base. The suggestion itself if laughable. If Brando decided it was better to send Ms. Littlefeather than go himself, he would definitely have had good reason to do it. Brando was amazingly courageous in real life--and always the champion of the underdog--from his boyhood defenses of Wally Cox against all bullies, to his defense of his mother from his abusive father, to his participation in the 1963 March on Washington with Martin Luther King, to his well-known advocacy and lavish philanthropy on behalf of civil rights, Native Americans, the environment . . . and on and on. He was warm and funny and incredibly gifted and generous and bright. A wonderful friend to many, including Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, and Jimmy Dean. Yes, Brando was a troubled soul because he endured so much abuse at a young age. But a coward? No. Not even close.

Herodotus's picture
Herodotus
Submitted by Herodotus on
One more thing: for John Wayne to accuse Marlon Brando of cowardice is hilarious. John Wayne dodged the draft but made a career of playing tough-talking military men. Now, that is more than irony. It is a joke.
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