In 1973, John Wayne faced severe criticism for attempting to attack Native American actress and civil rights activist Sacheen Littlefeather during the Oscars ceremony. Fellow actor Clint Eastwood also came under fire for mocking Littlefeather at the same event.
Years later, the controversial incident gained renewed attention in the wake of Will Smith and Chris Rock’s slapping incident at the Oscars 2022. On Sunday, Smith made headlines for hitting Rock onstage after the latter joked about Jada Pinkett Smith’s (Will Smith's wife) shaved head during the 94th Academy Awards.
While several people dubbed Smith’s act of violence against Rock’s debatable joke as one of the worst moments in the history of the Oscars, many argued that Wayne and Eastwood’s behavior against Littlefeather was far worse.
What did John Wayne and Clint Eastwood do to Sacheen Littlefeather?
Veteran American actor Marlon Brando boycotted the 1973 Oscars and refused to accept the Best Actor award for his role in The Godfather. He attempted to protest against the treatment of Native Americans in Hollywood and bring attention towards the Wounded Knee Occupation.
Instead of attending the Oscars himself, Brando sent Apache actress and the-then President of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, Sacheen Littlefeather, to refuse the award on his behalf while using the platform for awareness.
The 26-year-old Littlefeather attended the Oscars ceremony wearing traditional Apache clothes and was booed and cheered while making her way to the stage. Shortly after, she announced that Brando had refused to accept his Oscar Award to protest against the treatment of Native Americans in the entertainment industry, saying:
“He [Brando] 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.”
Littlefeather continued to read Brando’s full speech through his self-written letter and said:
“I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening, and that we will in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando.”
However, during the speech, renowned actor John Wayne allegedly attempted to attack Littlefeather and had to be held back by security guards.
Later on in the show, Clint Eastwood went on stage to present the Best Film award and mocked Littlefeather, saying he was presenting the award on behalf of “all the cowboys shot in all the John Ford Westerns.”
Entertainment Weekly reported that Wayne felt Brando should have shared his thoughts himself instead of Littlefeather, saying:
“If (Brando) had something to say, he should have appeared that night and stated his views instead of taking some little unknown girl and dressing her up in an Indian outfit.”
Littlefeather reportedly told The Globe and Mail that her speech was “half booed half listened” by the audience present at the venue. She also said that she had to complete her speech in 60 seconds to prevent getting arrested.
The activist also confirmed the attempted assault by Wayne during an interview with the Guardian last year, saying:
“During my presentation, he [John Wayne] was coming towards me to forcibly take me off the stage, and he had to be restrained by six security men to prevent him from doing so.”
Littlefeather further confirmed that she had to be escorted from the venue by the armed forces as John Wayne was eagerly waiting to pull her off stage, saying:
"I was escorted off of that stage by some armed guards. And luckily so, because John Wayne was waiting in the wings ready to go on to pull me off the stage, and he had to be held back by six security men because he was so outraged about what I had said."
The actress also claimed that some people from the audience made Native American war cries and imitated the tomahawk chop dance while she was getting off stage.
Several years later, the situation is still considered one of the worst Oscar moments in history.
Twitter recalls John Wayne and Clint Eastwood’s behavior against Sacheen Littlefeather at 1973 Oscars
As Will Smith made headlines after slapping Chris Rock for making a joke against Jada Pinkett Smith at the 2022 Oscars, an old clip showing John Wayne attempting to attack Sacheen Littlefeather and Clint Eastwood mocking the activist during the 1973 Oscars resurfaced online.
While many people criticized Smith’s behavior against Rock and dubbed it one of the worst moments in Oscar history, several others took to Twitter to argue that Wayne and Eastwood’s action against Littlefeather were much worse:
Following Smith and Rock’s Oscars incident, the Academy issued an official statement saying it does not condone violence in any form and will be investigating the incident further.