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Movie Critic Article: Burning Issues Burn!

"His appearance kind of gave the Indian people more backbone,” said Shirley Satiacum of Brando.

Movie Critic Article: Burning Issues Burn!
A Touch On Brando

This man prevented a massacre in the mean time he had been awarded the ultimate American prize for cinema arts. The Oscar or academy awards! There was no hint of publicity-seeking on Brando's design other than what the incident at Wounded Knee (1973) deserved by virtue of its potential for human losses and national distress.
Marlon Brando had taken his full potential for acting as a launching pad for his activist spirit, employing his own stakes without fear of repercussions. He had a history of activism which was generally race-related and/or oriented toward equality in society. Some of Brando's most controversial public views and statements were:

1) The subject-matter for this article i.e. sending an Apache Native American to refuse his Oscar for The Godfather in protest of the film industry’s treatment of Native Americans.
2) Showing strong support to the American Indian Movement AIM.
3) Appearing on television with members of the militant Black Panthers during the heat of the Civil Rights Movement. The move caused widespread boycotting of Brando’s films in the Southeastern U.S., scaring shareholders and causing Brando to not make a film for three years after the incident. Furthermore, Brando was often outraged by U.S. policy abroad, particularly covert military and CIA operations in South America.
Of apathy (and antagonism) toward the world’s less-fortunate and those marginalized groups of people, Brando said: "If we are not our brother’s keeper, at least let us not be his executioner."

The incident at Wounded knee 1973 had public opinion polls that revealed widespread sympathy for the Native Americans who entered and occupied Wounded Knee. There were a few deaths but the town was besieged by Federal forces until a deal was reached.
Marlon Brando had no time to wait. He decided on the following:
  • Write a lengthy letter of rejection of the Oscar award which he had sensed as a win secured by his genius performance as Don Corleone in The Godfather.
  • Send someone on his behalf to the Oscar night to read his letter of rejection.
  • Go to Wounded Knee at the same night the Oscars were being awarded and show support to the Native Americans.

Brando in Burn
Brando chose a young Apache actress/activist by the name Sacheen Littlefeather to represent him and read his letter at the Oscars. Littlefeather appeared at the ceremony in traditional Apache clothing. When his name was announced as the winner, Littlefeather told the attendants of the Oscars that Brando had declined the award due to the "poor treatment of Native Americans in the film industry" This was Littlefeather's improvised speech as she was told she could not read the original speech written by Brando and was warned that she would be physically taken off and arrested if she was on stage for more than a minute. Afterwards, she read his original words about Wounded Knee backstage to many of the press. 
This turn of events recaptured the attention of millions in the U.S. and world media. 
Two things would be among the outcomes: 
First: Support for the Indian occupation of Wounded Knee and of their just demands for ending siege and government corruption. 
Second would be the abolition of stereotyped cinematic portrayals of Native Americans. 

The cinematic exploitation of Native Americans, which had earned Hollywood the big bucks over the years, only began to break down when big-name Hollywood stars such as Marlon Brando spoke out against these negative portrayals. By rejecting the Oscar, Brando had wanted to chastise the Hollywood community for its detrimental portrayal of (Red) Indians and bring national attention to the American Indian siege at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

As early as 1954, when Brando won his first Oscar for his role in On The Water Front, he laid the sketch for a new stylized Male Look. He was thought of as inventing, through his film roles, a new definition for male sexuality in which masculinity and white ethnicity did not have to equal reactionary politics.

It was noted on Brando in The Washington Post that: "Starting in the 1960s, Brando became one of the first actor-activists to march for civil and Native American rights."  Prior to the incident in the Oscars, Brando had used his image in TV ads to help fight a fishing rights battle in Washington State. Then in this famous Wounded Knee incident, Brando donated more money and sided with the First Nations. He also donated large sums of money to the Black Panther Party when it was a Maoist organization. Brando worked hard to free Huey Newton from prison. Others in the Black Panther Party also had his support. 
In 1963, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, when thousands of disadvantaged Afro-Americans were participating in protest marches to press their claims for equal treatment and an end to racial discrimination, Brando dashed down to the frontline in the southern state of Alabama to make the point where his sympathies lay."
Instead of minding his career and keeping a low profile, Brando appeared in front of the TV cameras and upbraided his fellow Americans for either not knowing what was wrong in their country or not caring enough about equal rights.
And all this was decades before the making of the Hollywood movie Mississippi Burning, which focuses on the 1964 disappearance of civil rights activists in the southern states, thanks to white racists in and out of uniform.
Brando's rejection of the Oscar did impact his chances in Hollywood. The film business considered him washed up by the early 1970s when The Godfather came along. The British Telegraph newspaper called Brando: "the most influential film star of his generation, pioneering on screen the use of the acting technique popularly known as the Method."

The Method, Stanislvsky's Method of acting style, encourages actors to identify with their roles and imagine a biography for them beyond the confines of the written script. At its best this results in a realism and conviction never before seen on the screen. Marlon Brando was its most gifted exponent, and he set the pace for such later players as James Dean, Paul Newman and Al Pacino."
Out of all his films, Brando was reportedly proud of Burn, on which he commented: "The bourgeois media won't give it much attention because it's an anti-colonial revolutionary film with many parallels to the war going on in Vietnam at the time the film came out."
Marlon Brando will always be remembered for being one of the moat trend-setting actors of his time. And, yet, Brando was much, much more than all that! There was a commitment and social awareness which transcended his screen persona. At a time when most actors were focussed purely on their careers, Brando was not just willing but keen to make it abundantly clear where he stood on the burning issues of his day and age.
Marlon Brando, the real one, had always been the one outside and beyond all the characters he played so honestly. "That’s the way I suspect I will finally remember Marlon Brando: in the side-by-side twin images of Emiliano Zapata facing his brother’s betrayal of their beliefs and Marlon Brando being marched away in handcuffs in an attempt to protect the rights of people who were being deprived of them unfairly. It seems to me now, in retrospect, that these two Brandos have a lot in common." wrote one article author.
The scene at the Oscars did not spare Sacheen Littlefeather trouble. She was just beginning her career as an actress when Brando asked her to represent him. Sacheen remembers that night: " was an ending and a beginning... an ending to my career in the film industry and a beginning of what I hope is the healing process to the thread of institutionalized racism with which the fabric of our society was woven. Because of the mention of Wounded Knee I came to the attention of the FBI who arranged to have me "white-listed" in Hollywood so that I never worked in the film industry again."

In April 1996, Marlon Brando hit the headlines when he denounced the Jewish-run movie establishment for exploiting racial stereotypes, telling the Larry King Show that: "We have seen the nigger, we have seen the greaseball, we have seen the chink, the slit-eyed dangerous Jap... but we never saw the kike because they know perfectly well that's where you draw the wagons around... Hollywood is run by Jews, owned by Jews and they should have greater sensitivity." 

Brando with M. Makeba
Monica Moorehead wrote an article on Marlon Brando’s political involvement that indicated  many people were not happy with Brando’s political engagements. The article says that critics “labeled Brando as eccentric” because he was “anti-hollywood and anti-establishment." These statements indicate that Brando was different from most actors of his time because he did not care about being a star and maintaining his star image. Instead, Brando used his fame to help others in need which was not common for other actors of his time. An example that Moorhead uses of Brando's deviance from the norms of Hollywood stars was when she says that “[t]here were not too many celebrities who supported the Black Panther Party, but Brando was one of the most prominent” This statement clearly shows that many celebrities did not share the same interest in supporting the Black Panthers as Brando did. 


Here is the full text of Marlon Brando's refusal of the Academy Award for his role in The Godfather :

Marlon Brando, Jr. (April 3, 1924 � July 1, 2004) was an American movie star and political activist. "Unchallenged as the most important actor in modern American Cinema" according to the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, Brando was one of only three professional actors, along with Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe, named by Time magazine as one of its 100 Persons of the Century in 1999.

Below is Brando's speech on rejecting the Oscar 1973.

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.
Marlon Brando


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