The death of Sacheen Littlefeather was confirmed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Sunday night.
Littlefeather was a Native American actress and activist who famously turned down Marlon Brando’s best actor Oscar in 1973. She had reached the age of 75.
The passing of Littlefeather was tweeted about by the institution.
Multiple news outlets stated that Littlefeather had been battling breast cancer, though an official cause of death was not released.
Littlefeather, originally named Marie Louise Cruz after her birthplace of Salinas, California on November 14, 1946, changed her name in her twenties when she embraced her Native American roots and began a career as an activist.
One of the most exciting moments in Oscar history occurred on March 27, 1973, thanks to her performance.
Littlefeather, dressed in a buckskin outfit and moccasins, ascended the stage as Brando’s name was called for best actor for his work in The Godfather.
She apologized on Brando’s behalf for his decision to decline the award due to Hollywood’s misrepresentation of Native Americans.
During her acceptance speech for Brando, she was received with a mix of boos and cheers when she declined the Oscar on his behalf. According to The Los Angeles Times, she claimed that while she was performing, the actor John Wayne had to be stopped from storming the stage.
In 2020, Littlefeather spoke with NPR member station KQED about the lecture and its aftermath, and in August of this year, NPR’s Mandalit Del Barco reported on the interview.
“Profits might be made by capitalizing on the stereotype of the Hollywood Indian as a racist stereotype. Expect some boos from the crowd. They’d rather not have their evening ruined.”
A group of security agents reportedly helped Littlefeather offstage at the Oscars. She said that Hollywood had ignored her for many years because she was “red-listed.
Nearly half a century after Littlefeather’s Oscars presentation, the Academy issued a formal apology to her earlier this year.
Former academy president David Rubin wrote in June that she had been subjected to “unwarranted and unjustified” abuse.
Brando reportedly expressed regret to The Los Angeles Times about the predicament he had placed Littlefeather in.
I was upset that people should have booed and whistled and stomped, even if it might have been directed at me,” he told the talk show host at the time, Dick Cavett. They should have given her the respect of hearing her out.