Nearly 50 years later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is formally apologizing for the misbehavior Littlefeather suffered during his speech and in the years that followed.
“The abuse you have suffered because of this report is unnecessary and unjustified,” former academy president David Rubin wrote in a letter to Littlefeather. “The emotional burden you’ve endured in our industry and the cost to your own life is irreparable. The courage you’ve shown for so long has gone unrecognized. For this, we offer our deepest apologies and our sincere appreciation.”
In a statement, Littlefeather called the upcoming event, during which he will receive the pardon in person, “a dream come true.”
“For the Academy to apologize to me, we Indians are very patient — it’s been 50 years!” she said. “We always have to keep a sense of humor about it. It’s our survival mode.”
Several Indigenous artists will perform during the event for Littlefeather, including Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance, and Virginia Carmelo, a descendant of the Tongwa people who is leading the land concession.
“It’s heartwarming to see how much has changed since I didn’t accept the Academy Award 50 years ago,” Littlefeather said.
Her speech was applauded and well received
When Brando won best actor for “The Godfather,” he wasn’t. Instead, he asked Littlefeather, then an actress and activist, to attend the ceremony — and refuse the award on his behalf.
After the ceremony, Littlefeather said she was “relieved” and had difficulty finding work in the film industry. He devoted much of his post-Oscar career to activism and founding arts organizations for indigenous actors.
Although she received condemnation from some in Hollywood who disagreed with protecting Native Americans, Littlefeather said she received praise and support from leaders such as Coretta Scott King and Cesar Chavez.
“I know I did the right thing,” he told A.Prem.
Correction: This article has been updated to note that David Rubin is a former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.