Sacheen Littlefeather Details When John Wayne Tried To “Assault” Her At Oscars


At the 1973 Oscars, 26-year-old Sacheen Littlefeather ascended the stage; she was there on behalf of Marlon Brando, who was named best actor for The Godfather. However, he declined to attend the ceremony because he opposed Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans in movies. Littlefeather delivered a speech explaining as much and when she went backstage, John Wayne appeared visibly angered by her actions.

In fact, Littlefeather has said, Wayne was ready to confront her about it and had to be restrained by security personnel. Littlefeather had received mixed reception with audible booing that night, and only this week did the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issue a formal apology. She has since gone on to share details of what happened that night, including Wayne’s behavior towards her.


Sacheen Littlefeather shares what she experienced at the Oscars and with John Wayne

Sacheen Littlefeather delivers a speech on Marlon Brando’s behalf / Everett Collection

Back in the ’80s, director Marty Pasetta and producer Howard Koch conducted interviews that covered Wayne’s confrontational behavior towards Littlefeather. Her own accounts have more recently spread on major news platforms, where she walks people through the dismissal she faced that day. In her Oscars speech on Brando’s behalf, she said, “I’m Sacheen Littlefeather. I’m Marlon Brando’s official representative here this evening. Unfortunately, he cannot receive this Academy Award because of the image of Native American Indian people in film and television today.”


RELATED: Academy Apologizes To Sacheen Littlefeather For The Way She Was Treated At 1973 Oscars

She mostly heard booing, while “the other half started cheering.” She waited for quiet before continuing and finishing her speech. Going backstage, she was met with Wayne. “[John Wayne] did not like what I was saying up at the podium,” Littlefeather recounted. “So, he came forth in a rage to physically assault and take me off the stage. And he had to be restrained by six security men in order for that not to happen.”

The aftermath then and decades later

John Wayne behaved aggressively towards Sacheen Littlefeather / Everett Collection

On the evening that all of this was unfolding, Littlefeather was given two armed guards to escort her to different rooms, she recounted, “One was for television press, radio press and international press. And I would have about 10 minutes in each press room, and that was it. And then, I was escorted out the door.” At that time, she was the first Native American woman to take the stage at any Academy Award ceremonies. She and Brando had become friends thanks to his advocacy for America’s indigenous, whose occupation of Wounded Knee in South Dakota had also inspired his absence from the Oscars that year. When he asked her to take the stage on his behalf, Littlefeather says, “I was just floored.” She felt nervous even before standing before the audience, mustering as much grace as she could even before facing the incoming reproach.

Littlefeather has been issued a formal apology / Everett Collection

Jump to June 2022 and Academy President David Rubin issued Littlefeather a statement of condolence that in part says “The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified.” It continues, “The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.” Progress is not always a straight road but rather a winding path, but looking at where things are now, Littlefeather has said, “It is profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago.”

The Oscars / PxHere

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