Sometime back, I adopted a dog from the Friendicoes shelter here in New Delhi. He is a young Boxer male and was typically dumped outside the shelter at night. Outwardly, except for being thin and a little skin problem, the dog appeared fine. Everyone at Friendicoes and me wondered about this case because the Boxer is in his prime and highly pedigreed. A month after welcoming him into my heart and home, I found out that he has malignant venereal tumors which need prolonged and expensive treatment that includes chemotherapy. I am happy to report that he is responding well to the treatment under one of the finest vets, Dr Prabhakar, at Friendicoes. The good doctor has magic in his fingers !
I named the Boxer , Marlon after the legendary actor Marlon Brando. Everyone smiles when they hear his name. The ladies sigh, remembering the smoldering and sensual Brando. Film enthusiasts get delirious and talk excitedly about his films and the powerful characters that he essayed.
And then comes the inevitable question. Why did I name him Marlon Brando ? Some put it down to me being a huge fan or he being a cultural icon. Both assumptions are correct.
But most importantly what placed him firmly in my consciousness and being is that Marlon Brando stood up for the alienated and the dispossessed. And he did it oh so flamboyantly and stylishly. I am a huge sucker for any man who tends to live larger than life, the man who chooses to walk un-trodden paths, the man who refuses to be chained by the sometimes hypocritical and immoral chains of society….the one who dances to distant and different drums.
On the eve of the 1972 Oscars, Brando announced that he would boycott the ceremony, and would send Sacheen Littlefeather in his place. After Brando’s name was announced as Best Actor for ‘The Godfather’, the presenter Roger Moore attempted to hand the Oscar to Littlefeather, but she brushed it aside, saying that Brando could not accept the award. Littlefeather read a portion of a lengthy statement Brando had written.Brando had been involved in social causes for years, speaking publicly in support of the formation of a Jewish state in the 1940s, as well as for African-American civil rights and the Black Panther Party. His Oscar statement expressed support for the American Indian Movement (AIM) and referenced the ongoing situation at Wounded Knee, the South Dakota town that had been seized by AIM members the previous month and was currently under siege by U.S. military forces. Wounded Knee had also been the site of a massacre of Native Americans by U.S. government forces in 1890.
Here is the excerpt:
It is the hour in my country as well as that of rest of the world to abandon all notions of ‘otherness’ and instead embrace ‘togetherness’. Only an intermixing colors will reveal a new rainbow world.
Here is the full speech that Marlon Brando. I really wish he had delivered it in person. Truly would have gone down in history as one of the greatest speeches.
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.