Sacheen Littlefeather, the Native American activist who made the first ever political speech at the Oscars in 1973, has stage 4 breast cancer, according to her spokesperson.
Littlefeather became famous for making a speech in the place of Marlon Brando, who won for Best Actor 45 years ago for his legendary performance in “The Godfather.” Brando, who was involved in the American Indian Movement, decided to boycott the Oscars to protest how Native Americans were portrayed in media.
Knowing he was likely to win the award, Brando asked AIM leaders to select someone to make a speech in his place, and Littlefeather was selected. Wearing an Apache dress, Littlefeather made an improvised statement on TV, which you can watch above, and then read a 15-page speech written by Brando to reporters backstage.
“I want my legacy here on earth to be that I spoke the truth,” Littlefeather said in a statement released Monday. “As women, we have been used to being silenced and we are silenced no more. When I look at other women, I look at them now as bonding together. Different nationalities of women need to support other nationalities of women as one unit together.”
Littlefeather also had warm words for Cherokee actor and veteran Wes Studi, who appeared at last night’s Oscars as a presenter. She also expressed her hope that the focus on diversity in film will one day lead to a blockbuster featuring Native Americans.
“Wes Studi looked absolutely wonderful and so handsome in his bowtie,” she said. “He spoke in his first language as he spoke in Cherokee as a Vietnam vet. I wish that this language was translated in subtitles as he spoke so that all could understand the significance and meaning of what he said.”
“We have come along way since 1973 when I first represented Marlon Brando and made a statement on stereotypes and lack of diversity. We have only just begun. I look forward to the time when we as Native People tell our own stories in our words.”
A new short documentary honoring Littlefeather’s activism, titled “Sacheen,” has been released on social media. The documentary includes interviews with Littlefeather and activists from movements like Black Lives Matter, Time’s Up, and Standing Rock discussing the legacy of Littlefeather’s Oscar appearance.