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

The speech Brando had wished Littlefeather to give was later printed in the New York Times. Here is the text:

For 200 years we have said to the Indian people who are fighting for their land, their life, their families and their right to be free: ''Lay down your arms, my friends, and then we will remain together. Only if you lay down your arms, my friends, can we then talk of peace and come to an agreement which will be good for you.''

When they laid down their arms, we murdered them. We lied to them. We cheated them out of their lands. We starved them into signing fraudulent agreements that we called treaties which we never kept. We turned them into beggars on a continent that gave life for as long as life can remember. And by any interpretation of history, however twisted, we did not do right. We were not lawful nor were we just in what we did. For them, we do not have to restore these people, we do not have to live up to some agreements, because it is given to us by virtue of our power to attack the rights of others, to take their property, to take their lives when they are trying to defend their land and liberty, and to make their virtues a crime and our own vices virtues.

But there is one thing which is beyond the reach of this perversity and that is the tremendous verdict of history. And history will surely judge us. But do we care? What kind of moral schizophrenia is it that allows us to shout at the top of our national voice for all the world to hear that we live up to our commitment when every page of history and when all the thirsty, starving, humiliating days and nights of the last 100 years in the lives of the American Indian contradict that voice?

It would seem that the respect for principle and the love of one's neighbor have become dysfunctional in this country of ours, and that all we have done, all that we have succeeded in accomplishing with our power is simply annihilating the hopes of the newborn countries in this world, as well as friends and enemies alike, that we're not humane, and that we do not live up to our agreements.

Perhaps at this moment you are saying to yourself what the hell has all this got to do with the Academy Awards? Why is this woman standing up here, ruining our evening, invading our lives with things that don't concern us, and that we don't care about? Wasting our time and money and intruding in our homes.

I think the answer to those unspoken questions is that the motion picture community has been as responsible as any for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing his as savage, hostile and evil. It's hard enough for children to grow up in this world. When Indian children watch television, and they watch films, and when they see their race depicted as they are in films, their minds become injured in ways we can never know.

Recently there have been a few faltering steps to correct this situation, but too faltering and too few, so I, as a member in this profession, do not feel that I can as a citizen of the United States accept an award here tonight. I think awards in this country at this time are inappropriate to be received or given until the condition of the American Indian is drastically altered. If we are not our brother's keeper, at least let us not be his executioner.

I would have been here tonight to speak to you directly, but I felt that perhaps I could be of better use if I went to Wounded Knee to help forestall in whatever way I can the establishment of a peace which would be dishonorable as long as the rivers shall run and the grass shall grow.

I would hope that those who are listening would not look upon this as a rude intrusion, but as an earnest effort to focus attention on an issue that might very well determine whether or not this country has the right to say from this point forward we believe in the inalienable rights of all people to remain free and independent on lands that have supported their life beyond living memory.

Thank you for your kindness and your courtesy to Miss Littlefeather. Thank you and good night.

Brando later shared his thoughts with Dick Cavett -- stay tuned for a video clip...

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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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