Friday, February 25, 2005

Sacheen Littlefeather Refuses Brando's Oscar

The year was 1973.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was giving out their awards, the Oscars. The hall was full of artists. Across town a group of scientists were huddled around a 13 inch TV in a seedy bar.

Scientist One: Oh, I hope we win something this year!

Scientist Two: No, we won't. They only nominated actors and other "artist" types.

Scientist One: You know if why do they call it "Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences" if they never give us SCIENTISTS a shot??!?!?

Scientist Two: I gotta go to the men's room and empty the 'old Bunsen burner'.
(Then they all laughed and laughed)

Marlon Brando was nominated on five previous occasions; bringing home the statue for the film "On the Waterfront". That was almost 20 years earlier, however, and Brando had become a whole lot weirder since then.

Brando was nominated on this night for his performance as Don Corleone in "The Godfather". Other best picture nominees were Peter O'Toole (The Ruling Class), Michael Caine (Sleuth), Laurence Olivier (Sleuth) and Paul Winfield (Sounder).

They were all losers.

Brando's name was called. What happened next would shock an entire nation. Michael Caine got up and slapped Laurence Oliver in the face saying "Feel the pain from Caine!" Then he gave Paul Winfield 'the finger' and started looking around the room for Peter O'Toole. When he spotted him he said "Don't worry, I like YOU. You smell like cinnamon. I like that."

No, I made that up. If ONLY it were THAT simple.

Instead, the other nominees sat quietly in their seats and a woman in traditional American Indian garb approached the podium.

She said:
Hello. My name is Sacheen Littlefeather. I am an Apache and I am the 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 afterward, that he must 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 re-runs, and also the recent happenings at Wounded Knee.

I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that we will, in the future, in our hearts and our understanding will meet with love and generosity.

Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando.

The Wounded Knee event was when the Federal government took action on the American Indian Movement's (AIM) occupation of the area known as Wounded Knee. They occupied the site to protest what they "US government treaty violations."

It was a complex issue and certainly one worth discussion. But what did it have to do with Marlon Brando's Oscar?

The audience and home viewers were confused and some booed "Sacheen Littlefeather".

I put her name in quotes for two reasons:

1) I like quotes. I also like to use there symbols (&%^#@~*) but none of them were appropriate in that instance.

2) It wasn't her name. The woman who went to the stage was an actress named Maria Cruz. She had appeared in a number of B-movies, some of them being soft porn. In fact, many people still question her American Indian heritage.

Later that night Best Picture presenter Clint Eastwood said "I don't know if I should present this award on behalf of all the cowboys shot in John Ford westerns over the years." It received a huge laugh (even bigger than that Bunsen burner joke.)

It's unclear what Brando’s true motivation was. Actually, maybe it isn’t. Perhaps I just don't know and am too lazy to look it up. Either way, it remains one of the most interesting moments in Oscar history.

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