A nasty stain of bigotry in Oscars history eventually led to a celebration of indigenous culture, held in the iconic heart of the film industry, nearly half a century later.
On Saturday, the Academy welcomed Sacheen Littlefeather to its museum in an evening held in her honor, an event that was both a culmination and a continuation of its efforts to apologize and reconcile with women. actor and activist who has been blacklisted by the industry for speaking out to protest the treatment of Native Americans on and off screen.
“In one of our many conversations with Sacheen in preparation for this event, we asked, to you, what does reconciliation look like? And that single, powerful question brought us to this evening,” said Museum director and president Jacqueline Stewart, program curator with Earl Neconie (Kiowa/Okla.), one person. longtime friend of Littlefeather, said. “Tonight is her vision of what the way forward might look like, that we can all share a space to celebrate Native American and Native American cultures, to reflect light, to support each other in this healing circle.”
What followed was a nearly two-hour show, attended by a mixed crowd of natives and natives from lands outside what is now known as the United States. Indigenous and culturally centered at the David Geffen Theater and offers an intimate look at the community to which Littlefeather (Apache/Yaqui/Ariz.) has dedicated his life.
Former museum director, president, and current CEO of the Academy Bill Kramer introduced immediate historical footage of Littlefeather’s 1973 Oscars moment, when she appeared at the behest of Marlon Brando. declined the best actor award on his behalf, and absorbed the taunts and backlash from the industry on his behalf. “When we opened the museum, we focused on reflecting on our own past. Tonight’s evening was an evolution of that work, and it all really started with this clip,” he said.
Choking, Stewart then personally welcomed Littlefeather onto the stage, and the standing ovation moments later was a stark contrast to the boos she received the last time she attended an event. of the Academy. Littlefeather, 75, currently uses a wheelchair, but her warmth and unflinching demeanor have not changed compared to the 26-year-old, who made her first on-stage political statement in history. Oscar history. In her conversation with the producer of Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache/NM), co-chairman of the Academy Indigenous Alliance and the first person to contact Littlefeather on behalf of the Academy, adult age spoke hesitantly with a slight breathlessness but with no shortage of wit.
“Well, I did – after 50 years. You know what we Indians are like, we are very patient people,” she teased in front of the crowd by greeting.
Littlefeather provided both gravity and gravity as the background for the evening, admitting that she was terrified when she realized she would have to turn down an Oscar from co-host Liv Ullmann, one of the women. her favorite actor (to Ullmann’s co-host: “Roger Moore, 007? Ehh!”), and embracing her role in achieving Native American justice: “I represent all the native voices there, because we’ve never been heard that way before. And if it costs me admission, that’s okay, because those doors have to be opened – like Yosemite Sam. Someone had to do it.”
Following cultural tradition, Littlefeather also took the opportunity to give some personal gifts to some of the individuals who participated in the evening program – Neconie, music leaders Michael Bellanger (Ojibwe/Minn. and Kickapoo/ Okla.), Steve Bohay (Kiowa/Okla..) and Joe Tohonnie (Apache/Ariz.) and Stewart, who seem emotional as Littlefeather’s adoptive niece and caretaker, Calina Lawrence (Suquamish/Wash. ), donned her a dark purple shawl. Littlefeather said: ‘I’ll soon be over to the spirit world, who revealed last year that she had metastatic breast cancer. “And you know, I’m not afraid of death. Because we come from a us/us/our society. We do not come from an I/I/myself society. And we learn to give from a very young age. When we are honored, we give.”
David Rubin and Janet Yang, former and current presidents of the Academy, later took to the stage to publicly present the organization’s apology to Littlefeather. In recognition of the input from Runningwater, producer Heather Rae and other members of the Indigenous Coalition, as well as staff including impact and including Academy executive Jeanell English, Rubin read the apology letter first sent specifically to Littlefeather in June, followed by a comment from Yang, who broke down in tears: “Our support, honor, and recognition of communities. Native Americans and Native Americans as well as storytellers do not end today. … We are building a future of collaborative, dialogue and solution-oriented film. Presentation without inclusion or access is not enough. I am honored to be here with you today and looking forward to our future, something you have so much inspired by. I would also like to reiterate our apologies and gratitude to you. “
As part of his response, Littlefeather asked all the natives present in the theater to stop. Almost half of the room stood up. “I’m here to accept this apology, not just for myself but as an acknowledgment, knowing it’s not just for me, but for all of our nations who also need to be. listen and deserve this apology tonight,” she told the crowd. “Look at our people. Let’s look at each other and be proud that we are survivors, all of us. Please, when I am gone, always remember that whenever you stand for your truth, you will keep my voice, the voice of our nation and our people, alive. ”
While Littlefeather read her prepared remarks from center stage, Rubin, Yang, Stewart and Runningwater stood aside – a striking scene that captures the current state of diversity in leadership Academy director and also a kind of future fulfillment in which the activist her whole life has expressed hope in her First Academy Speech, almost 50 years ago.
The evening also featured overland recognition from Virginia Carmelo (Tongva/So. Calif.) and performances by Bohay and singers and dancers Sooner Nation, Bellanger and nationwide singers and dancers and Tohonnie and the White Mountain Apache Crown dancers, as well as a musical interweaving with eight performers dancing their own styles to the same song: Teresa Littlebird (Northern Cheyenene/Calif.), dancer turf field Wesley Bellanger (Ojibwe / Minn. and Kickapoo / Okla.) and Randy Pico Jr. (Navajo and Luiseño / Calif.), Male Straight Traditional Dancer James Gregory (Osage / Okla.), Southern Female Fabric Dancer Michele Gregory (Pit River / Northern Calif.), Shoal Dancer Olivia Gone (Male). Cheyenne / Okla.), jingledress dancer Sophia Seaboy (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Sisseton / SD) and chicken dancer Akshkii Keediniihii (Diné Navajo / Ariz.). Lawrence, a singer-songwriter, also sang two numbers, “Don’t Count Me Out” and “ʔəshəliʔ ti txʷəlšucid”, some sort of modern R&B in the Lushootseed language.
Following the show, which is free and open to the public, 300 guests – Littlefeather’s friends, filmmakers, creators, and members of community organizations including the County Native American Commission / City of Los Angeles, Indigenous Youth Council International, IllumiNative and Meztli Projects – held upstairs in the 5th-floor tearoom for a buffet reception hosted by chef Crystal Wahpepah (Kickapoo / Okla .) Preparations include grilled bison with salt and pepper, pumpkin salad with toasted basil flowers and acorn black oak and devil chocolate Maya cake.