Ethics Quiz: The Return Of Sacheen Littlefeather

Apparently the Oscars are looking hard for virtue-signaling opportunities.

In this instance, they had to travel back in time 50 years and decide to make amends for one of the more ludicrous examples of celebrity grandstanding in pop culture lore. Marlon Brando, a cinch to win the Best Actor statuette for “The Godfather” in 1973, decided to snub the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences, his Hollywood colleagues and the Oscars’ TV audience by sending an obscure, Native American actress named Sacheen Littlefeather to go to the podium when Marlon’s name was read and make a statement about the abuse of Indians at Hollywood’s hands while announcing that Brando was rejecting his honor in protest. You know, because “The Godfather” was all about Native American mobs, or something.

It was a complete non sequitur, and many suspected that the whole stunt had little to do with Native American portrayals in film (about which Brando had previously said nothing) and more to do with the famously weird actor’s desire to stick his thumb in the eye of the industry that had made him rich and famous. He might have just as well had his statuette rejected by Bozo the Clown; maybe it came down to a coin flip: heads, Sasheen (it was an Indian Head nickel), tails, Bozo.

The young woman’s appearance did not go over well. “Mr. Brando very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” Littlefeather said. “And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”  That was a reference to a protest a month earlier,when the American Indian Movement had occupied the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee, site of the infamous massacre, to protest Hollywood’s killing wait, it was the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans that protest was about. What did it have to do with movies, Brando, and the Oscars?

Oh, nothing.

Annoyed and insulted, for social justice grandstanding at the Academy Awards was not a thing back then, the audience booed Littlefeather during her speech. After it, she was thoroughly mocked on late night comedy shows and in the press. Thus the Academy is publicly groveling to her now, because Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

At an upcoming September 17 event,  “An Evening with Sacheen Littlefeather,” at the Academy Museum an official letter of apology to Sasheen will be read to all. “The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified,” then-Academy president David Rubin wrote in the  June 18 letter.“ 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.”

Then Littlefeather  will participate in a conversation with producer Bird Runningwater, co-chair of the Academy’s Indigenous Alliance. The program will also feature a “land acknowledgement,” whatever that is, performances by Native American artists, and remarks from incoming Academy president Janet Yang, Academy CEO Bill Kramer and others. It’s being live-streamed…damn, I’m busy that day.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Is this apology necessary, appropriate and genuine, or exploitative, cynical, and foolish?

I know what I think, but I have my foot in the doorway of my mind to keep it open in case I’m missing something.

Booing is always uncivil–some members of the Academy crowd also gave derisive Indian whoops—but if anyone ever deserved such treatment, it was Littlefeather and Brando, who was the one really being jeered. Her appearance was rude in itself, assisting in hijacking the awards ceremony for pure political grandstanding. (She shouldn’t have been allowed to take the stage.) Now that Hollywood is so woke it is helping to kill the movie business, the Oscar crowd gives ovations to minority actors who slap comedians for un-woke jokes. Personally, I hold that the jeers of 1973 were more ethical than Will Smith being applauded for defending “black women’s hair” or the lack of it.

Littlefeather claims that she was a martyr for a cause. “You know, I never stood up onstage in 1973 for any kind of accolades,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. “I only stood there because my ancestors were with me, and I spoke the truth.” Sure. She was a struggling actress who seized the opportunity to get her “fifteen minutes of fame” hoping that it would spark her stalled career. She was willing to aid and abet a egomaniacal star’s plot to mar what was supposed to be a showcase for the cinematic arts, and received exactly the reception such an incursion was likely to receive.

Apologies are nice, though this one is one more example of presentism, with smug individuals having the benefit of extra years of knowledge and perspective proclaiming moral superiority over those who came before them. Any day now, I’m expecting a special Oscar grovel to Japanese actors in penance for the racist portrayals of our World War II enemies in films of the era.

And Mickey Rooney’s performance as “Mr. Yunioshi” in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” of course.

12 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Return Of Sacheen Littlefeather

  1. Any elaborate, staged apologies being planned for all the starlets and wanna-be starlets Brando and his industry buddies seduced or raped and then cast aside like dirty shirts?

    • Funny Brando story…

      I attended the annual Superman Celebration in Metropolis, IL a few years with an appearance by Sarah Douglas who played the female Phantom Zone villain Ursa in the first two Reeve films.

      She did the opening scene in “Superman: the Movie” with Marlon Brando as Jor-El. Sarah related how someone on set sat in Brando’s name-marked chair while Brando was doing his scene and, when the scene was over, Brando saw someone was sitting in his chair so he walked over and sat on the bottom of a large upturned container so he wouldn’t embarrass the guy.

      Later on, he was sitting in his chair when he saw Sarah, motioned for her to come over and sit on his lap. She decided to ask him about his patented roll-eye look while he was performing and Brando told her that the look was how he read cue cards without having to sport glasses.

  2. A captive audience in the theater; an audience at home that could change the channel if they chose – assuming they had enough time to do so after processing the, “What the heck?” thoughts running through their brains.

  3. “The program will also feature a ‘land acknowledgement,’ whatever that is,”

    A land acknowledgement is a statement, typically at the start of an event, along the lines of “I acknowledge that I am standing on the traditional grounds of the (insert native group here) nation and I recognize their ensuring presence on these lands.” Perhaps a bit longer, to include specifics like the treaty number by which the land was acquired.

  4. I love multiple choice questions. Well, I liked them better when I could just pick one or more and didn’t have to defend my choice(s). Still, here goes.
    “Is this apology necessary, appropriate and genuine, or exploitative, cynical, and foolish?”
    Necessary? An apology has been necessary for many years. It still is. Giving unwarranted offense requires the offender to apologize, and it seems that Littlefeather was treated more harshly than the situation called for. But, she took the stage at an awards ceremony and turned it political, so she also owes an apology to the Academy and the public. It’s possible she already has done that.
    Appropriate? First of all, an apology should, if at all possible, be made in person to the person offended. Don’t know if Rubin already has done that, but, regardless, publicizing a letter of apology is not appropriate unless it is done by the recipient. And what about the surviving members of the Academy who also were offensive? Rubin cannot speak for all of them and he should not try.
    Genuine? Again, a genuine apology would be made in person, if possible, and not made for PR purposes.
    Exploitative? Seems so. Publicizing the letter is exploiting the situation to try to make the Academy look good. The event next month may be exploitative, but we won’t know until then.
    Cynical? A cynical attitude is required to turn an apology into a PR event.
    Foolish? Given the woke mindset of so many and the prevalence of virtue-signaling, I think this action, both the apology and the event next month, will resonate well with the majority of those who follow the Academy.
    So, bottom line for me, it is necessary, exploitative, and cynical, but not done appropriately, and therefore not genuine. Still, a smart move by the Academy in today’s political climate.

  5. The apology strikes me as disingenuous. I have always felt we should judge people by their actions more than by their words. For example, David Rubin suggests, Sacheen Littlefeather’s career was damaged because of the Academy’s actions. Yet no reparations to her accompany the apology. This hollow apology should come as no surprise given it is offered by a group who have acquired fame and fortune by pretending to be something they are not.

    Is Littlefeather owed an apology? I don’t think so. No one made her dress in native garb and disrespect the proceedings to issue a political statement. There is a time and place for everything and an event honoring the artistic achievements of Academy members is not the place for political grandstanding. She had total control of her words and actions. What neither she nor anyone ever has is control of how a message is received by others. Actions have consequences.

  6. My interest in any public virtue signaling is nil. It matters not what you are supporting or dissing. I am not interested when HS valedictorians, or anyone else, “come out” in their speech. I am not interested in public proposals of marriage on big screens. I loathe publicized “gender reveals.” The common factor for all these and others is the universal narcissism they display.

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