On March 27, 1973, a young Indian woman named Sasheen Littlefeather
took the stage during the Academy Awards to decline Marlon Brando's
Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather.
"Marlon Brando ... 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
And the reason 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
I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this
evening and that we will, in the future…our hearts and our
understanding will meet with love and generosity.
Thank you on
behalf of Marlon Brando."
Some in the audience applauded, but most booed. While presenting the Best
Clint Eastwood wondered
if it should be presented "on behalf of all the cowboys shot in John Ford
westerns over the years."
Michael Caine then
critized Brando for "letting some poor little Indian girl take the boos,"
instead of appearing and taking the boos himself."
After the ceremony, Littlefeather shared the full text of Brando's statement
with the press.
The Unfinished Oscar Speech
By MARLON BRANDO
March 27, 1973
years we have said to the Indian people who are
fighting for their land, their life, their families
and their right to be free: ''Lay down your arms, my
friends, and then we will remain together. Only if
you lay down your arms, my friends, can we then talk
of peace and come to an agreement which will be good
When they laid down their arms, we murdered them. We
lied to them. We cheated them out of their lands. We
starved them into signing fraudulent agreements that
we called treaties which we never kept. We turned
them into beggars on a continent that gave life for
as long as life can remember. And by any
interpretation of history, however twisted, we did
not do right. We were not lawful nor were we just in
what we did. For them, we do not have to restore
these people, we do not have to live up to some
agreements, because it is given to us by virtue of
our power to attack the rights of others, to take
their property, to take their lives when they are
trying to defend their land and liberty, and to make
their virtues a crime and our own vices virtues.
But there is one thing which is beyond the reach of
this perversity and that is the tremendous verdict
of history. And history will surely judge us. But do
we care? What kind of moral schizophrenia is it that
allows us to shout at the top of our national voice
for all the world to hear that we live up to our
commitment when every page of history and when all
the thirsty, starving, humiliating days and nights
of the last 100 years in the lives of the American
Indian contradict that voice?
It would seem that the respect for principle and the
love of one's neighbor have become dysfunctional in
this country of ours, and that all we have done, all
that we have succeeded in accomplishing with our
power is simply annihilating the hopes of the
newborn countries in this world, as well as friends
and enemies alike, that we're not humane, and that
we do not live up to our agreements.
Perhaps at this moment you are saying to yourself what
the hell has all this got to do with the Academy
Awards? Why is this woman standing up here, ruining
our evening, invading our lives with things that
don't concern us, and that we don't care about?
Wasting our time and money and intruding in our
I think the answer to those unspoken questions is that
the motion picture community has been as responsible
as any for degrading the Indian and making a mockery
of his character, describing his as savage, hostile
and evil. It's hard enough for children to grow up
in this world. When Indian children watch
television, and they watch films, and when they see
their race depicted as they are in films, their
minds become injured in ways we can never know.
Recently there have been a few faltering steps to
correct this situation, but too faltering and too
few, so I, as a member in this profession, do not
feel that I can as a citizen of the United States
accept an award here tonight. I think awards in this
country at this time are inappropriate to be
received or given until the condition of the
American Indian is drastically altered. If we are
not our brother's keeper, at least let us not be his
I would have been here tonight to speak to you
directly, but I felt that perhaps I could be of
better use if I went to Wounded Knee to help
forestall in whatever way I can the establishment of
a peace which would be dishonorable as long as the
rivers shall run and the grass shall grow.
I would hope that those who are listening would not
look upon this as a rude intrusion, but as an
earnest effort to focus attention on an issue that
might very well determine whether or not this
country has the right to say from this point forward
we believe in the inalienable rights of all people
to remain free and independent on lands that have
supported their life beyond living memory.
Thank you for your kindness and your courtesy to Miss
Littlefeather. Thank you and good night.