Actors who famously refused Oscars as Sacheen Littlefeather's speech resurfaces

Darcy Rafter October 3, 2022
Actors who famously refused Oscars as Sacheen Littlefeather's speech resurfaces
Photo by Michael Ochs Archvies/Getty Images

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You may have thought that winning an Oscar is a pivotal point in the trajectory of an actor’s career, but for some A-listers, it’s not a big deal. We take a look at three actors who famously refused their award at their Oscars.

Winning an Oscar is widely acclaimed to be a bestowing international recognition of prestige. It is viewed as the reward for endless hours of hard work honing in a craft.

Katherine Hepburn famously never attended the Oscars when she was nominated or won. Although, she still accepted the honor and displayed the awards in her home. However, three other actors have rejected an Oscar altogether for various reasons.

Clearly, the shiny statues, high-profile guests, and pictures in tuxedos or gowns at the annual event is not all it’s made out to be…

Marlon Brando’s 1973 Oscar for Best Actor

At the 1973 Academy Awards, Sacheen Littlefeather refuses the Academy Award for Best Actor on behalf of Marlon Brando who won for his role in The Godfather. She carries a letter from Brando in which he explains he refused the award in protest of American treatment of the Native Americans.

In 1973 Marlon Brando was set to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his outstanding performance in The Godfather. However, Brando didn’t turn up to the Academy Awards. Instead, he used his platform to protest against the mistreatment of Native American actors in Hollywood and to highlight The Wounded Knee occupation.

Brando acted as the voice of the American Indian Movement, and he sent Sacheen Littlefeather. Littlefeather was the President of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee at the time. She walked up to the podium to refuse the Oscar on his behalf.

Instead, Roger Moore ended up taking the Oscar home with him. He kept it for many years until an armed officer from the Academy arrived to collect it from his possession.

Brando had become an activist for the movement in the early 1970s and his stance was specifically curated to attract public attention. Sacheen Littlefeather went up to the podium dressed in a traditional Apache dress and was given a fifteen-page speech to read out. Sacheen’s speech was simultaneously applauded and booed by the audience.

However, according to an interview Littlefeather had with LA Times in 2016, a producer on the show allegedly threatened to have her “removed and arrested” if her speech went over 60 seconds. Brando’s fifteen-page speech was eventually read out in full in the press room at the event.

The Academy apologizes for backlisting Littlefeather

Following Littlefeather’s speech, the Academy installed a new rule that no proxy speeches were to be given out to future winners. Since then, no Oscar has been refused, though some nominees have not attended the ceremony.

Nearly 50 years after the incident, the Oscars issued a statement signed by Academy President David Rubin apologizing to Littlefeather. The letter called her 1973 appearance “a powerful statement that continues to remind us of the necessity of respect and the importance of human dignity.”

Sacheen spoke about The Academy’s statement to The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year: “Regarding the Academy’s apology to me, we Indians are very patient people – it’s only been 50 years! We need to keep our sense of humor about this at all times. It’s our method of survival.”

The activist and former actor revealed: “I never thought I’d live to see the day. This is a dream come true. It is profoundly heartening to see how much has changed since I did not accept the Academy Award 50 years ago.”

Tragically, Littlefeather passed away at 75 years old on October 2, 2022, at her home in Novato, Northern California. She was surrounded by her family and loved ones, according to a statement released by her caretaker.

Littlefeather revealed in March 2018 that she had been diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. It caused her health to decline in recent years.

Dudley Nichols’ 1935 Oscar for Best Screenplay

Critically acclaimed screenwriter Dudley Nichols was the first person to reject an Oscar. He won the statuette for Best Screenplay in the 1935 film, The Informer.

The hit film was a big favorite at the ceremony that year, as John Ford also won Best Director. Whilst Ford graciously accepted the award, his colleague Nichols refused to take home his Oscar.

Dudley cited an ongoing writer’s strike in Hollywood as his reasoning. As a result of his courageous stand, he was elected President of the Writer’s Guild of America.

However, three years later, in 1938, it is believed that Nichols finally accepted the award. It came after the writer’s disagreement eventually got settled.

George C Scott’s 1971 Oscar for Best Actor

George C Scott famously disapproved of the entire Oscar’s ceremony. Therefore, when he was nominated for his performance as General George S Patton in the titular film, he decided to send a telegram to the Academy.

In the note, he informed he didn’t want his name on the ballot, as he would be refusing the award anyway. According to Entertainment Weekly, the telegram reads: “I respectfully request that you withdraw my name from the list of nominees. My request is in no way intended to denigrate my colleagues.”

This is at a time when the ceremony was being televised for the first time. It spurred ongoing controversy among the elite attendees.

Even after his efforts to have no part in the Oscars, Scott still earned the Academy Award for Best Actor. The film’s producer, Frank McCarthy, accepted the statuette on behalf of Scott, but returned it the following day.

Scott had also been nominated in 1962 for Best Supporting Actor in The Hustler and had refused the award. He famously calling the Oscars ceremony “a two-hour meat parade, a public display with contrived suspense for economic reasons.”

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Darcy is an experienced journalist passionate about celebrity culture and entertainment. After gaining a degree in Media and Communications at Goldsmiths University she has also become a social media specialist, always keeping informed on the latest trends. With almost five years of experience in media, her expertise is analysing platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. When she's not tracking the latest trending content, she’s watching films and eating lots of chocolate.