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‘I promised Brando I would not touch his Oscar’: the secret life of Sacheen Littlefeather

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Sacheen Littlefeather begins by announcing that this will be one of her last interviews: “I’m very, very ill. I have metastasised breast cancer – terminal – to my right lung. And I’ve been on chemotherapy for quite some time and daily antibiotics. As a result, my memory is not as good as it used to be … I’m very tired all the time because cancer is a full-time job: the CT scans, MRIs, laboratory blood work, medical visits, chemotherapy, infectious disease control doctors, etc, etc. If you’re lazy, you need not apply for cancer.”

For the next couple of hours, speaking over Zoom from her home in northern California, as she trips down memory lane her solemn demeanor gives way to chattiness and laughter. At 74, she has lived a full, eventful life, though she will be forever remembered for an event that took up little more than one minute of it, on the night of 27 March 1973. This was when she took the stage at the 45th Academy Awards to speak on behalf of Marlon Brando, who had been awarded best actor for his performance in The Godfather. It is still a striking scene to watch. Amid the gaudy 70s evening wear, 26-year-old Littlefeather’s tasseled buckskin dress, moccasins, long, straight black hair, and handsome face set in an expression of almost sorrowful composure, make a jarring contrast.

When the presenter, Roger Moore, attempts to hand Littlefeather Brando’s Oscar she holds out her hand as if to push it away. She explains that Brando cannot accept the award because of “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry”. The crowd interrupts her, half-applauding, half-booing. “Excuse me,” she says calmly, then continues: “And on television and movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.” At the time, Wounded Knee, in South Dakota, was the site of a month-long standoff between Native American activists and US authorities, sparked by the murder of a Lakota man. Littlefeather ends her speech begging that “in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity”.

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Sacheen Littlefeather at the 1973 Oscars

Sacheen Littlefeather at the 1973 Oscars. Photograph: Album/Alamy

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Click the link below for the article:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jun/03/i-promised-brando-i-would-not-touch-his-oscar-secret-life-sacheen-littlefeather#Echobox=1622700648?utm_source=pocket-newtab

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