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Marlon Brando’s lost Oscar speech

In 1973 Marlon Brando declined a best actor award for the Godfather in solidarity with the American Indian. Yada yada yada, only that much we remember. Something to do with Wounded Knee, but the average American might be excused for confusing the massacre of 300 Lakota in 1890, the contemporary deadly FBI-AIM confrontation, and Dee Brown’s bestseller. A new documentary Reel Injun, about Hollywood’s skewed portrayal of Native Americans, unearths Apache Sasheen Littlefeather’s incredibly poised delivery of Brando’s Oscar message.

Littlefeather was confined by time limits to present only this abbreviation, interrupted by audience booing and then simultaneous applause. Youtube has the clip, for which the transcript is below.

“Marlon Brando … has asked me to tell you, in a very long speech which I cannot share with you presently —because of time— but I will be glad to share with the press afterward, that he must… very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award.

And the reason for this being… are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry… excuse me… and on television in movie re-runs, and also the recent happenings at Wounded Knee.

I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that we will, in the future…our hearts and our understanding will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando.”

Brando’s formal statement was released to reporters after the ceremonies.

For 200 years we have said to the Indian people who are fighting for their land, their life, their families and their right to be free: ”Lay down your arms, my friends, and then we will remain together. Only if you lay down your arms, my friends, can we then talk of peace and come to an agreement which will be good for you.”?

     When they laid down their arms, we murdered them. We lied to them. We cheated them out of their lands. We starved them into signing fraudulent agreements that we called treaties which we never kept. We turned them into beggars on a continent that gave life for as long as life can remember. And by any interpretation of history, however twisted, we did not do right. We were not lawful nor were we just in what we did. For them, we do not have to restore these people, we do not have to live up to some agreements, because it is given to us by virtue of our power to attack the rights of others, to take their property, to take their lives when they are trying to defend their land and liberty, and to make their virtues a crime and our own vices virtues.?

?     But there is one thing which is beyond the reach of this perversity and that is the tremendous verdict of history. And history will surely judge us. But do we care? What kind of moral schizophrenia is it that allows us to shout at the top of our national voice for all the world to hear that we live up to our commitment when every page of history and when all the thirsty, starving, humiliating days and nights of the last 100 years in the lives of the American Indian contradict that voice??

?     It would seem that the respect for principle and the love of one’s neighbor have become dysfunctional in this country of ours, and that all we have done, all that we have succeeded in accomplishing with our power is simply annihilating the hopes of the newborn countries in this world, as well as friends and enemies alike, that we’re not humane, and that we do not live up to our agreements.?

?     Perhaps at this moment you are saying to yourself what the hell has all this got to do with the Academy Awards? Why is this woman standing up here, ruining our evening, invading our lives with things that don’t concern us, and that we don’t care about? Wasting our time and money and intruding in our homes.?

?     I think the answer to those unspoken questions is that the motion picture community has been as responsible as any for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing his as savage, hostile and evil. It’s hard enough for children to grow up in this world. When Indian children watch television, and they watch films, and when they see their race depicted as they are in films, their minds become injured in ways we can never know.?

?     Recently there have been a few faltering steps to correct this situation, but too faltering and too few, so I, as a member in this profession, do not feel that I can as a citizen of the United States accept an award here tonight. I think awards in this country at this time are inappropriate to be received or given until the condition of the American Indian is drastically altered. If we are not our brother’s keeper, at least let us not be his executioner.?

?     I would have been here tonight to speak to you directly, but I felt that perhaps I could be of better use if I went to Wounded Knee to help forestall in whatever way I can the establishment of a peace which would be dishonorable as long as the rivers shall run and the grass shall grow.?

?     I would hope that those who are listening would not look upon this as a rude intrusion, but as an earnest effort to focus attention on an issue that might very well determine whether or not this country has the right to say from this point forward we believe in the inalienable rights of all people to remain free and independent on lands that have supported their life beyond living memory.?

?     Thank you for your kindness and your courtesy to Miss Littlefeather. Thank you and good night.

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