Clint Eastwood just released the final movie of his iconic career, going out by directing and starring in Cry Macho . And while many have celebrated Eastwood’s career during this time, something cropped up on social media that drummed up an unfortunate incident from decades ago. Because of it, some are accusing him of racism due to comments he made at an awards show back in the early 1970s.
The clip that resurfaced this week is of the 1973 Academy Awards and is precipitated by a speech made by actress and Native American civil rights activist Sacheen Littlefeather. The clip is about a minute long and shows Littlefeather giving a short speech followed by the response from Clint Eastwood.
Sacheen Littlefeather was accepting the Academy Award for Best Actor in place of Marlon Brando that year. She mentions as much in her speech. Brando was boycotting the awards show that year even though he’d won for his role of Vito Corleone in The Godfather. But instead of showing up, he sent Littlefeather who at the time was the president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. As she said in her speech, Brando (who declined the award) was protesting the treatment of Native Americans in the film industry. The crowd gave it a little booing followed by a bit of a cheer. And then Clint Eastwood took the stage after.
It’s what Clint Eastwood said next that has some people a bit up in arms. He makes a “joke” about whether he should present the award “on behalf of all the cowboys shot in all the John Ford Westerns…” He’s referring to the iconic director of the silent era and beyond who dealt in the genre. Eastwood might have been a little rankled at the time about the speech from Littlefeather and made an ill-timed comment. Some are seeing it as a racist attack, though it’s hard to draw that as anything like a firm conclusion.
Clint Eastwood made this comment afterward, though in the original tweet there is a reference to the reaction from John Wayne as well. In a later interview, Littlefeather said that Wayne had to be held back by security guards as she exited the stage. According to that description, Wayne was more than a little perturbed at what she had said. Again, a weird reaction for someone who was simply calling for Native Americans’ equal treatment and representation in the movies at the time. Both were out of line for sure.
Considering we are close to 50 years removed from this incident, it’s hard to imagine it going all that far when it comes to Clint Eastwood. Should he have said that at the time? No. But considering the kind of career he’s had sense and his ability to weather other negative press, this probably just fizzles. That being said, with cancel culture anything is possible. We will see if this starts more of a negative press cycle for the 91-year-old Eastwood.