A Message that Needed to Be Heard

Marie Cruz was born in 1946 in California. Her father was of Native American heritage (Apache and Yaqui) while her mother was of French, German, and Dutch heritage. She has had health issues from an early age when she was raised by her grandparents.

Marie studied acting in college, hoping for a career in acting and modeling. While in college, she became more engaged with her Native American heritage. She became involved with the occupation protest of Alcatraz and learned more about Native American customs. This was when she changed her name to Sacheen Littlefeather.

She had a number of limited acting, modeling, and advertising opportunities. It was in 1973 when she became better known. The Academy Awards that year had expected that Marlon Brando would win the Best Actor Award for his performance in The Godfather. As a protest of the way that Native Americans are portrayed in movies, he decided to reject the Oscar if he were selected. He was an advocate for Native Americans and was concerned about their treatment. His refusal of the Oscar would be his opportunity for advocacy.

Brando asked Sacheen to go on stage if he won the Oscar and read a statement declining the award. Sacheen went on stage but couldn’t read the statement because it was too long. She had to ad-lib a statement. The response from the audience was a mixture of applause and boos. As she left the stage, she was mocked by several people. John Wayne had to be restrained by six security guards from attacking her.

The FBI threatened movie studios that wanted to hire her. Talk shows would not let her tell her side of the story. The Academy outlawed future proxy acceptance of awards. When she visited Marlon Brando’s home, shots were fired at them.

Sacheen has continued to advocate for Native Americans although her health has continued to decline. In 2022, the motion picture academy issued a formal apology stating: “The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified. The emotional burden you have lived through and cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”

Just imagine the courage it took to go on stage and present a message that some might not have wanted to hear. Often issues of social justice are never given the attention they deserve unless they are presented in forums which draw a large audience.
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“It is gratifying to see people in entertainment increasingly concerned about injustice in society and not just interested in making money.” – Coretta Scott King

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.