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Sacheen Littlefeather reflects on her protest against Hollywood’s depiction of Native Americans

<i>Bettmann/Getty Images</i><br/>Sacheen Littlefeather declined an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando at the 1973 Academy Awards in protest of how Hollywood depicted Native Americans onscreen.
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Sacheen Littlefeather declined an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando at the 1973 Academy Awards in protest of how Hollywood depicted Native Americans onscreen.

By Harmeet Kaur, CNN

When Sacheen Littlefeather spoke out against Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans at the 1973 Academy Awards, she was booed onstage and blacklisted from the film industry.

Nearly 50 years later, the Apache and Yaqui actor and activist said she would do it all again “in a heartbeat.”

In an interview with Variety ahead of an appearance this weekend at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Littlefeather reflected on the now famous 60-second speech she gave when she declined an Oscar on behalf of Marlon Brando.

“I did not do this totally for Marlon. I did not do this on my behalf,” she told the publication. “I did this for all Native people everywhere who suffered from racial prejudice and discrimination. I did it for all of those who were born under the umbrella of genocide, in the United States, and Canada, and for all of us who have suffered through extreme stereotypes which were not of our choosing.”

Littlefeather also discussed how she was shunned by the entertainment world after her speech, which referenced the standoff at Wounded Knee. That same year, members of the American Indian Movement occupied the South Dakota town but faced resistance from federal law enforcement.

“(The FBI) went around Hollywood and told people not to hire me. If they did, they would shut their film production down,” she said. “In addition, other people were let on talk shows like Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, and other popular talk shows. They could go on there and talk about me, but I was never allowed to go on them and represent myself.”

Brando, unlike many in the industry, remained an ally. The two met through Brando’s interest in Indigenous issues and Littlefeather said she appreciated the actor’s “ability to see through the baloney and the prejudice.”

“He understood racial prejudice in a way that most people do not, and that was refreshing to me,” she added.

Littlefeather’s remarks come about a month after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said it had apologized for the abuse she endured during and after her speech. On Saturday, the Academy is hosting a conversation with Littlefeather in an event that will also feature other Indigenous performers and speakers.

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CNN’s Scottie Andrew contributed to this report.

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