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