Sacheen Littlefeather is recalling a very pivotal moment from almost 50 years ago.
The Native American activist, 75, appeared on behalf of Marlon Brando at the 45th Academy Awards, where she gave an impassioned speech about the treatment of her people in the entertainment industry.
While the surprise appearance festered boos from the audience, one actor in particular apparently was so filled with “rage” that he had to be restrained.
Western icon John Wayne, who died in 1979, was reportedly furious enough that he attempted to ambush Littlefeather once she left the stage — and she won’t ever forget it.
“[John Wayne] did not like what I was saying up at the podium,” the actress said during a recent interview with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. “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.”
Onstage before the incident, Littlefeather was surprisingly able to keep her composure, despite noticing a lack of diversity among the crowd at the ceremony.
“I focused in on the mouths and the jaws that were dropping open in the audience, and there were quite a few,” she recalled. “But it was like looking into a sea of Clorox, you know, there were very few people of color in the audience. And I just took a deep breath, put my head down for a second, and then, when they quieted down, I continued.”
She also contended that other stars in attendance that fateful evening were openly racist towards her.
“It was interesting because some people were giving me the tomahawk chop. I thought, ‘This is very racist. Very racist indeed.’ And I just gracefully walked and ignored them,” she recalled.
Littlefeather was sent a formal apology from the Academy earlier this summer regarding the incident and is set to be gifted a longer one during an event titled “An Evening With Sacheen Littlefeather” come September.
“The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” wrote former Academy President David Rubin in the note. “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,” he continued. “For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.”