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THE “IMMA LET YOU FINISH” OF THE 1973 OSCARS — Everyone’s favorite eccentric, Marlon Brando, sends Native American Sacheen Littlefeather to turn down his Best Actor trophy and give a speech. Years later, Littlefeather reflects on this odd moment in mass-culture history:

As the stunned audience erupted with a confused mix of boos and applause, Littlefeather explained that Brando was regretfully turning down the award to protest “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry” and the ongoing siege of 200 American Indian Movement activists by armed authorities in Wounded Knee, S.D. “I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening,” she concluded before leaving the stage, “and that we will, in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity.”

In the wake of her appearance at the Oscars, though, Littlefeather received little respect from Hollywood and the mainstream media, let alone understanding, love, or generosity. Even as she was cheered by Native Americans for taking a civil rights stand, false stories soon spread claiming that she was not a real Native American, that she had rented her buckskin Oscar dress, that she was just a wannabe opportunistically trying to ride Brando’s coattails. “If [Brando] had something to say,” actor John Wayne groused dismissively, “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.”

Brando himself expressed some misgivings a few months later about the position he’d put Littlefeather in: “I was distressed that people should have booed and whistled and stomped, even though perhaps it was directed at myself,” he told Dick Cavett. “They should have at least had the courtesy to listen to her.”

Facing what she saw as an all-out campaign to discredit and blacklist her, Littlefeather soon abandoned any ambitions she’d had of an acting career and dropped almost entirely out of the public eye. Still, her Oscar notoriety never fully faded. Just last August, in an appearance on The Tonight Show, comedian Dennis Miller cracked about then-Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who’d claimed some Cherokee ancestry, “She’s about as much Indian as that stripper chick Brando sent to pick up his Oscar for The Godfather.”

(EW)

Tonight is the 86th Annual Academy Awards, and we thought we should reblog this as a reminder.

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Belle Director Amma Assante explains why she wanted to tell a Jane Austen Story with a Black Protagonist

Belle will be released in the US on May 2. 

Why did you decide to go the route of the Austenesque romance to tell her story?

In so many ways, it’s a romantic love story and it’s a paternal love story as well. It’s as much about her and [her surrogate father] Lord Mansfield, and also the fact that her biological father loved her as well.

It was much more practical in those days, if you had an illegitimate child of color, you could bring them into the household but had to keep them in the servant’s quarters, and have them work with servants where they’d be safe but wouldn’t be a full part of the family. The fact that her father decided that he didn’t want her to be brought up that way and brought her to his uncle [Lord Mansfield] and said, “Love her as I would had I been here,” was important to me.

When I did the research, it surprised me how many people had left Dido money in their will — Lord Mansfield left her money in his will [and] Lady Mary, Lord Mansfield’s sister, also left Dido in her will. The reality of it, then, was that so many people clearly [and] on paper showed their love for Dido that I thought it would have been disingenuous for me to tell a story purely about her suffering and a story that wasn’t about her love.

She had great love. That she married John Davinier, that she was able to baptize all of her children with him in the same church that they married in, I found that that was very romantic and beautiful.

I also wanted to understand, or communicate to the audience, what kind of men would love Dido during this period. Lord Mansfield, who adopted her, and also John [her husband] — what would make them so brave and so courageous enough to be able to love this woman of color during that period?

If I’m honest, I wanted to show a woman of color being loved. We don’t see it that often. I wanted to change the conversation a little bit, change the dialogue a little bit — we are loved, [and] we can be loved. Dido was valuable enough to be loved, she was worthy of being loved, and she was loved. Her challenge was showing people the right way to love her in the way that she needed to be. MORE

Belle Director Amma Asante on Challenging Stereotypes About Black Directors

Switching gears a bit, how did you make that transition from acting to directing?

I had been writing and producing for quite a while in British television. I wanted to circle my screenplays around some of the things that we’ve discussed — race, gender, and class — and I wasn’t sure that TV was the right place for me to do it.

I had written my first script, A Way of Life — which, thankfully, went on to do quite well critically, and won me a BAFTA and lots of other international awards — and I was very protective of it.

One day, one of my funders at the BFI called me in and said, “Hey. I know you would really like to produce this movie, and that’s all very well, but actually we’d love you to direct it.” I sort of shrunk back into the sofa and said, “No, no. That’s not something I can do. I’m a writer. What I do is write, and this is the best thing I’ve ever written to date, and I don’t want to be the person who ruins it by trying to direct it. This movie is my baby and I’m not going to kill it!”

They were very adamant and said, “Look. You’re not going to kill your movie. We’ll send you to film school for a month” — like a month of film school, what’s that? — “And we’re going to give you some money so that you can shoot a pilot of the movie. We want you do a couple of scenes so you get used to getting behind the camera then we want you to go off and make a movie.”

It took about a month to convince me, to get the courage to accept the offer. Off I went to film school and had one-to-one training with cinematographers, other directors, and editors — I literally had one to one time with all of the heads of department that you’ve have on a real movie, then I went off and shot a pilot. Then I thought, “Wow, I really like this.” Being able to create the characters and then see it through, it felt like, this is what I was born for. 

MORE

Awesome article on the upcoming film based on the life story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a real noblewoman who lived in 1700s Scotland.

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