In 1973, Native American actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather (also known as Marie Louise Cruz) refused Marlon Brando's Oscar in front of millions of viewers. On Brando's behalf, she used the opportunity to make a political statement decrying the stereotyping of Native Americans in movies and TV, and to support American Indian Movement activists at Wounded Knee, S.D. Some in the audience booed, but others found it inspiring even years after the event.
Littlefeather claims that she was blacklisted by the Hollywood community and received threats. In addition, she says, media reports published several falsehoods, such as that she was not Native American or had rented the outfit for the occasion. Littlefeather said that the federal government encouraged the blacklisting in order to abate Native American activism after Wounded Knee.
The speech was credited with bringing attention back to the Wounded Knee standoff, on which a media blackout had been imposed. Coretta Scott King called Littlefeather to thank her for the speech. In 2014, the 87th ceremony of the Academy Awards drew criticism for lack of diversity in nominations; actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who boycotted the ceremony, cited Littlefeather as inspiration to do so.
Littlefeather continued doing activism and became a respected member of California's Native American community. In the 1980s, she led prayer circles for Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American Catholic saint. In 1988, she worked with Mother Teresa helping AIDS patients in hospice care, later founding the American Indian AIDS Institute of San Francisco. She campaigned against obesity, alcoholism, and diabetes, and specifically assisted Native Americans with AIDS, including her brother.
“I want my legacy here on earth to be that I spoke the truth. As women, we have been used to being silenced and we are silenced no more. When I look at other women, I look at them now as bonding together. Different nationalities of women need to support other nationalities of women as one unit together.”
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