MOVIES

Oscar Winners Who Refused Their Awards

There is perhaps no film performance more famous than Marlon Brando’s leading turn in “The Godfather.” Though he had already cemented himself as one of the most significant actors of all time when the movie came out, it may be his most iconic performance today, and for good reason. In 1973, Brando won an Academy Award for playing Vito Corleone in the legendary picture, but he turned it down.

Unlike the other two people on this list, Brando didn’t simply refuse to show up. In his stead, he sent Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American activist, who informed the presenters and the viewers at home that Brando was declining the award. “He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” she said in her speech. “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 last piece came in reference to the Wounded Knee Occupation of that year, during which Oglala Lakota members took over the South Dakota town in protest of the U.S. Government’s treatment of Native Americans and faced off against U.S. Marshals.

The award rejection was highly controversial then and remains one of the most jaw-dropping Oscars moments of all time. Since Littlefeather’s death, there have also been serious questions as to whether or not she was truly Native American herself. Still, Brando’s statement remains an early instance of actors using the Academy Awards as a platform for speaking out. “The motion picture industry has been as responsible as any for degrading the Indian,” the actor wrote in his full statement to the press. “It has not been my wish to offend or diminish the importance of those who are participating tonight.”

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