Early Call for Change in Native American Stereotyping

“By the mid-1800s the policies for dealing with the “Indian problem” had found their justification in popular literature, which helped to establish the myth of the monolithic “Indian” without regard for the distinctions  of more than 2,000 different cultures, languages, and value systems that the concept represented” (Wilson II, Gutiérrez, Chao, 2013, pg 56).

At the 45th Annual Academy Awards in 1973, Marlon Brando sent a Native American activist named Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to decline his award for Best Actor in Godfather. Through this action and speech read in Brando’s place, a political statement was made to support American Indian Movement activists at Wounded Knee, S.D. and to denounce the stereotyping of Native Americans in TV and movies.

Although this incident occurred almost 43 years ago, it has proved to be relevant in the present times regarding diversity and racial matters in Hollywood. Jada Pinkett Smith recently wrote to Littlefeather saying that watching a clip of the Oscars speech helped provide validation for her own boycott against the Oscars this year.

Watch Sacheen Littlefeather’s 1973 “acceptance” speech here.

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