How Marlon Brando and Sacheen Littlefeather Changed Oscar Night

By Karen Harris
Marlon Brando in 'The Godfather;' presenters Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann on stage with Sacheen Littlefeather at the 1973 Academy Awards. Credits: IMDB.com; Bettmann/Getty

And the Oscar For Best Actor In A Leading Role went to... Marlon Brando. But it was Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American actress and activist, who took to the stage with a 15-page speech in her hand. It was the most bizarre Oscar-night turn of events we'd ever seen, a political protest in place of a celebration of Brando's performance as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, that left presenters Roger Moore holding the statuette and Liv Ullmann looking on in shock. Sacheen Littlefeather and Marlon Brando's stunt at the 1973 Academy Awards ceremony was the ultimate outrageous Oscar moment, and her brief speech elicited both boos and applause from the audience.

"Hello, My name is Sacheen Littlefeather," she began. "I am Apache, and I am president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. I'm representing Marlon Brando this evening, and he has asked me to tell you, in a very long speech which I cannot share with you presently, because of time, but I will be glad to share with the press afterwards that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry. Excuse me. And on television, in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at wounded knee. I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening, and that we will, in the furute, our hearts and our understandings, will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando."

At the 2019 Academy Awards presentations, there will undoubtedly be some surprise winners and losers, but there is one thing we call all expect: politically-charged acceptance speeches. It is a trend these days for actors and actresses to use the Oscars’ stage as a platform for sharing their views on political, social, and industry causes. It is quite possible that we can thank Marlon Brando for starting the trend in 1973. But Brando did it with a twist, actually declining the award but using the event as a platform. Let’s look at the before, during, and after of Marlon Brando’s 1973 Oscar speech.