November 23, 2012

Dennis Miller slurs Sacheen Littlefeather

A Recent TV Slur Revives Debate About Sacheen Littlefeather and Her Role in Marlon Brando’s Oscar Refusal

By Dina Gilio-WhitakerHistory was made in 1973 when Marlon Brando declined to accept the best actor Oscar for his role in The Godfather to protest the treatment of American Indians. His demurral, which was delivered on stage by a young Native American activist named Sacheen Littlefeather, generated intense controversy and criticism throughout the country. Almost 40 years later, some in Hollywood still seem to hold a grudge.

The subject came up on the August 27 airing of NBC’s Tonight Show while host Jay Leno was talking to comic and FOX-friendly pundit Dennis Miller. The conversation turned to Massachusetts senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren:

Miller: Elizabeth Warren? Is that the chick that says she’s an Indian?

Leno [chuckling]: Well, yeah, no.

Miller: She’s about as much Indian as that stripper chick Brando sent to pick up his Oscar for The Godfather, all right?

Leno: Check that reference! Hang on, you mean Shawsheen [sic] Littlefeather?

Miller [audience laughter]: Sacheen Littlefeather. Of course I remember!

Leno: 1971 was that? Oh my God!

Miller: You know, I sent the Warren campaign a donation today, but just to piss her off I sent it in beads.

Miller’s comments—and the laughing audience—are glaring reminders that ugly Native American stereotypes are still pervasive. A few weeks after Miller’s appearance with Leno, staffers for Senator Scott Brown, Warren’s opponent, were taped doing tomahawk chops and war whoops as they mocked her campaign. Racial slurs that deny a person’s Native American heritage are a peculiar type of racism, and all the better when the target is a woman, especially one as high profile as Elizabeth Warren or Sacheen Littlefeather.
And:The biggest lie told by the media was that she was not an Indian, a misconception that is still surprisingly persistent today, as demonstrated by the Leno-Miller exchange. Miller’s reference to her as a “stripper” was a further attempt to discredit her, a deliberate exaggeration that probably referenced a photo shoot she had done for Playboy the year before her appearance on the Academy Awards. “I am not a stripper,” she says. “People pay me to keep my clothes on! [laughing] I’m 65 years old and an elder now, going to the other side soon. I was young and dumb [when I did the photo shoot].… It was shot in 1972, with nine other Indian women whose names I won’t disclose to protect their privacy.”

The spread, which was to have been called “10 Little Indians,” was killed by Playboy editors because of the Wounded Knee confrontation. But a year later the magazine ran the shots of Littlefeather, who had by then rocketed to fame.
And:The Leno-Miller segment about Littlefeather mostly escaped the notice of the media, but that’s partly because she deliberately delayed responding to it. She is surviving a battle with breast cancer just this year, having only recently been officially declared in remission. “Having cancer has been the fight of my life. Staring death in the face changes your life,” she says. “Late-night TV has stooped to racism and bigotry. [Miller and Leno] came off as bitter, old white farts. Would they have gotten away with it if they had referred to Oprah as Aunt Jemima?”Comment:  For more on the subject, see Littlefeather Fought for Native Actors.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dennis Miller is Bill O'Reilly's kid brother. He was never funny on SNL, nor is he funny now. He is obsolete.