As Hollywood continues to grapple with the fallout surrounding this year's ridiculously white Oscar nominees, calls for a boycott from Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee bring to mind a groundbreaking moment in both the career of the late legend Marlon Brando and the industry at large. In 1973, Brando refused to accept his Best Actor trophy for his iconic performance as Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather in protest of the industry's grave mistreatment of Native Americans:
In his place, Brando sent Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather to that year's Academy Awards ceremony to deliver an excerpted version of his too-long-for-TV indictment of an industry he felt had "made a mockery" of Native Americans by only portraying them as "savage, hostile, and evil." Of course, Brando's boycott also came in the wake of the military's controversial treatment of activists at Wounded Knee.
Littlefeather, as noted by Business Insider, also served as the president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. Though her message for the Academy (and, in turn, the world) was met with a varied response by fans and critics alike, Brando doubled down on his inspirational plea for equality by later publishing his full non-acceptance speech in the New York Times, excerpted below:
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.
As the industry continues to address its self-perpetuated diversity crisis in light of the revived #OscarsSoWhite controversy, perhaps Brando's historic act of protest can inspire today's leading stars to take similar actions of their own. Thankfully, many have already started doing exactly that.