The man who made offers others couldn’t refuse once refused the movie industry’s heftiest honor.

On March 5, 1973, Marlon Brando declined the Academy Award for Best Actor for his gut-wrenching performance as Vito Corleone in “The Godfather” — for a very unexpected reason.

Here’s how it went down.

The Movie That Brought Brando Back

In the 1960s, Brando’s career had slid into decline. His previous two movies — the famously over-budget “One-Eyed Jacks” and “Mutiny on the Bounty” — tanked at the box office. Critics said ”Mutiny” marked the end of Hollywood’s golden age, and worse still, rumors of Brando’s unruly behavior on set turned him into one of the least desirable actors to work with.

Brando’s career needed saving. “The Godfather” was his defibrillator.

In the epic portrayal of a 1940s New York Mafia family, Brando played the patriarch, the original Don. Though the film follows his son Michael (played by Al Pacino), Vito Corleone is its spine. A ruthless, violent criminal, he loves and protects the family by any means necessary. It’s the warmth of his humanity that makes him indestructible — a paradox shaped by Brando’s remarkable performance.

“The Godfather” grossed nearly $135 million nationwide, and is heralded as one of the greatest films of all time. Pinned against pinnacles of the silver screen — Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, and Peter O’Toole — Brando was favorited to win Best Actor.

 Drama At The Awards Show

On the eve of the 45th Academy Awards, Brando announced that he would boycott the ceremony and send Sacheen Littlefeather in his place. A little-known actress, she was then-president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee.

On the evening of March 5, when Liv Ullman and Roger Moore read out the name of the Best Actor award recipient, neither presenter parted their lips in a smile. Their gaze fell on a woman in Apache dress, whose long, dark hair bobbed against her shoulders as she climbed the stairs.

Moore extended the award to Littlefeather, who waved it away with an open palm. She set a letter down on the podium, introduced herself, and said:

“I’m representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you … that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry —”

The crowd booed. Littlefeather looked down and said “excuse me.” Others in the audience began to clap, cheering her on. She continued only briefly, to “beg” that her appearance was not an intrusion and that they will “meet with love and generosity” in the future.

Why He Did It

In 1973, Native Americans had “virtually no representation in the film industry and were primarily used as extras,” Native American studies scholar Dina Gilio-Whitaker writes. “Leading roles depicting Indians in several generations of Westerns were almost always given to white actors.”

But they weren’t just neglected or replaced in film; they were disrespected — a realization that crippled Brando’s image of the industry.

The following day, The New York Times printed the entirety of his statement — which Littlefeather was unable to read in full because of “time restraints.” Brando expressed support for the American Indian Movement and referenced the ongoing situation at Wounded Knee, where a team of 200 Oglala Lakota activists had occupied a tiny South Dakota town the previous month and was currently under siege by U.S. military forces. He wrote:

“The motion picture community has been as responsible as any for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing him as savage, hostile and evil. It’s hard enough for children to grow up in this world. When Indian children … see their race depicted as they are in films, their minds become injured in ways we can never know.”

A tsunami of criticism toppled over Brando and Littlefeather following the Oscars, from peers in the industry and the media.

Still, Brando lent the Native American community a once in a lifetime opportunity to raise awareness of their fight in front of 85 million viewers, leveraging an entertainment platform for political justice in unprecedented fashion. His controversial rejection of the award (which no winner has repeated since) remains one of the most powerful moments in Oscar history.


Responses to "The Unbelievable Story Of Why Marlon Brando Rejected His 1973 Oscar For ‘The Godfather’ (Video)"

  1. Anonymous says:

    All Sharks @ World luv MArlon Brando, Sacheen Littlefeather and the Whole fukn Tribe of all WildThings everywhere.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I loved the Godfather movies and I fully support the late actor Marlon Brando for his stance at the time. You can draw parallels to the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples to the Native Americans regarding their treatment not only by the movie industry (Skippy) I might add.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Respect for Marlon Brando who dared to stand up in front of the AMERICAN PEOPLE for the (still) lack of respect for the Native Americans. The true history is still not taught in american schools...

  4. Hannelore Geilenkirchen says:

    Have thumbs up and all the Indians there are times better than now.Und may hold the White Buffalo Woman her hands over all Indians

  5. Anonymous says:

    Being American~Alaska Native, I applaud With Utmost Respect to Mr. Marlon Brando! For his Bravery for standing up for American Natives. Shame on the Audience that Boo~ed him!!

  6. I did not know about this. Respect to Brando..!

  7. Anonymous says:

    The sincerity, and the sadness eliminate from her entire being. When mother earth rises up to cleanse the forces of evil and destruction from herself, only those who hold her sacred will remain. Many tribes people will be here to help heal her wounds, and Hollywood will sink into her rising seas when the ultimate "cleanse" is upon us. The prophecies are coming to be, and the destroyers will be removed

  8. Marciadvl says:

    What a powerful action ! What a emotional moment! How full of sincere sentiments! I am touched by this woman.

  9. says:

    i think littlefeather did a wonderful job by getting up on stage and talking to all the people for Marlon Brando at that time she should have been the one who got that award for beening brave enough to stand up on the stage herself and yes i am for the Native America Indians it was wrong for what happen at wounded knee that should have never happen that way that is what i think, and i just what to say i am so sorry to all Native America Indians for what had happen on that day i am part America Indian Myself email address is thank you

  10. Anonymous says:

    I have to say Thank you to Mr, Brando ...

  11. Anonymous says:

    The history of the Native American (the true original people of this nation) has never been told and/or taught as American history. I appreciate Marlon Brando for what he has done, but more needs to be accomplished to help the various tribes and nations! Although I am African American my ancestors were not almost wiped off of the face of this earth. My prayers are with the Native American children for their future. May God bless them!

  12. Anonymous says:

  13. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Marlon Brando from all the indigenous people on this planet.

  14. We have as a nation have never acknowledged the fact that the only TRUE Americans are the American Indians.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Kudos for Marlon Brando and Sacheen Littlefeather, for standing up for the right. I think Mr. Brandon's declined of the Academy Award in 1973 was very courageous. Film makers ought to be ashamed of themselves for portraying Native Americans and African Americans as savages in movies from the past.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I feel so ptous of my self, being an Amer Indian.My name Letitia Biswane- Manouare.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I watched this show that night. I couldn't believe that this great actor would actually turn down the award that he, and all actors, strive for in their lifetime. I gained a lot of respect for him, and at the same time, I lost respect for Clint Eastwood for laughing off the gesture by "speaking for all the cowboys," and getting a lot of laughs, probably from those who booed Sacheen. I admire how Littlefeather carried herself. I've become so angry over the mistreatment of all our people on Turtle Island, that I'm sure I would not be able to speak with so much love and kindness.

  18. Anonymous says:

    My Late Father In-Law, Joe James said Marlin Brando was at Lummi Indian Reservation where he and Marlin became acquainted threw Bikes(Motorcycles) and Booze....LOL, Dad(Joe) was always proud to share this experience.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Let the truth br known-correct the wrongs of the past so people can move forward.
    'Let 2014 be the year of truth'

  20. Unknown says:

    hi I respect marlin brando for standing up for native americans even though he's not native himself we neen more people to stand up for the native americans Iv'e been put down as being a American indian movement ( AIM ') I'm a member of aim and proud of it and fighting for Lenard pelitire release

  21. Anonymous says:

    I remember seeing this , and at the time thought it was disrespectful to not accept the award. Now many years later, I see a man who stood up for what he believed, and chose this platform was his choice.

  22. Unknown says:

    Never knew this before... repect to brando and littlefeather... says a lot about america and the rest of the land of the free....

  23. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, hi! If there was a link, I probably missed it. But please make available a link to transcript of the aborted protest speech of Marlon Brando Many thanks! <3

  24. Teresa Thorpe says:

    I was at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in the summer of '78 where an honoring ceremony was held for The Longest Walk - such a powerful peaceful demonstration! Proud of all The Native Americans and Marlon Brando (and host of other celebrities) who supported the rights of Native American people.

  25. Anonymous says:

    The full speech as published in The NY Times:

  26. Anonymous says:

    Marlon Brando had the dignity and courage to stand for truth and justice. The largest genocide/holocaust was done to the Natives of the Americas.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Thumbs up.

  28. amazing

  29. Karen Ravine says:

    I saw this and was amazed and proud of my native blood . Mr Brandos truth also represented my "white"heritage in finally acknowledging the misuse of the original peoples. What amazes me the most is that was over 40 years ago and some sports team still don't get it!

  30. Anonymous says:

    I did not know about this salute to stand up against all.I think very degrading such a human race to have casinos on their land ,can't we have other thinks for their up lift ment how long we as Americans will keep on treating them as second class citizens.

  31. Ting Wong says:

    I once backpacked through USA and one of my least favourite memories was the mistreatment of American Indians. I felt disgusted and angered by the injustice done to the original inhabitants of this land. That feeling and pain never left me. I did not know about MB's brave and magnanimous gesture and I salute both the man and more importantly his intention. Bravo! May the fight for justice, truth and recognition be won sooner than later.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Like many others ,total respect Mr Brando,I'm a traveller in britain & we are treated with similar contempt.When we are ,which is rare,given land to live on without the threat of losing all we have we are made to feel like prisioners i.e.mounds,meatal spiked fences,cameras,........and more.How any of this is ok I don't know.,but how can the American people think they have/had the right to desimate a whole people then brand them savages etc when in fact the 'pioneers'were in the total WRONG!!

  33. Anonymous says:

    It is just hypocritical for someone to yak on about respecting Native Americans and at the same time refer to them as "Indians".They are not and never were Indians.A dumb European (Chris Colombus) mistook north America for eastern India and called it's natives Indian.We have all known better for generations now,but people still call Native Americans "Indians"...ridiculous !!!!!

  34. Anonymous says:

    Hypocritical? Fuck off. She's native, she can refer to her people anyway she wishes.... I am from the Huron nation and we call each other Indian all the time. Your statement is so simplistic it begs to question whether or not you've ever met a native American. And remember this was over 40 years ago, before you white men brought the decency of political correctedness.

  35. Morris Keyonzo says:

    I salute Marlon Brando for his admirable quality and the bravery to stand up against the injustices visited upon the native Americans at the crucial moment of his career to make a difference in recognition of all marginalized people in the world.

  36. Anonymous says:

    All Respect to Marlon Brando for this portrayal...,During a time of Great turbulence for my people....
    Sadly ...,the genocide continues....Aho..! MitakuyeOyasin..! We Are All Related..! Dok'sa ake ( Until our Paths Cross Again)

  37. Redhand says:

    I remember this and it was tense with a lot of controversy. As mentioned, Wounded Knee was going on. I applauded AIM and Marlon Brando, both brave acts to bring attention to our plight. Brando began, back then, a consciousness for Native actors that has built over the years. Someone must be first.

  38. Pal Martensson says:

    This is just as reat as Muhammaed Ali´s actions, white or black it doesn´t matter the POWER of someone taking action in something you belive in is to follow your heart and all these people have BIG hearts and BIG brains, it shows that we must have trust in humanity. BIG thx to Ali, Brando, Littl feather and many more and don´t forget everybody matters and everyone counts, love and peace.

  39. jon says:

    Would that we learn from such..Its hard to imagine anyone taking action like that these days.

  40. Unknown says:

    I really don't care for "The Godfather", but I love Sacheen Littlefeather <3

  41. Unknown says:

    I study too.

  42. Brando and Littlefeather did a wonderful job. What it boils down to. Is do we have respect for others or not. Around the glove oppression and being oppressed has been experienced by all in the past. We all really need to do better.

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