Paul Sorvino got same Oscars tribute as Sacheen Littlefeather

Oscar winner Mira Sorvino is speaking out against the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for omitting her father, the late great character actor Paul Sorvino, from the “In Memoriam” segment that was played on the show Sunday night.

The “Goodfellas” star, who died in July at age 83, was relegated to an online tribute page on the Academy’s website, as were “Wag the Dog” star Anne Heche and Charlbi Dean, the South African star of this year’s best picture nominee, “Triangle of Sadness.” These three actors and several others have emerged as the Oscars’ most troubling omissions from the video segment that played during Sunday’s live broadcast, with a moving tribute by John Travolta and musical accompaniment by Lenny Kravitz.

What could be even more troubling for Sorvino’s family, friends and fans is that he received the same level of attention from the Oscars as problematic Bay Area activist and actor Sacheen Littlefeather. Sorvino’s 40-year career spanned more than 100 movies and TV shows, while Littlefeather, who died in October age age 72, became famous when she donned a buckskin dress, claimed to be Apache and refused Marlon Brando’s best actor Oscar in 1973.

More recently, the Salinas-born Littlefeather has been at the center of an Oscars controversy over Pretendians, people who falsely claim to be Native American for money, fame and other opportunities. After Littlefeather’s death, her sisters came forward in a detailed investigative report and in an interview with this news organization to say she lied for more than 50 years about being Native American — first by saying she was White Mountain Apache and later by also claiming to be Yaqui.

Sacheen Littlefeather, a Bay Area activist, tells the audience at the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, March 27, 1973, that Marlon Brando was declining to accept his Oscar as best actor for his role in “The Godfather.” Sacheen Littlefeather died Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, at her home in Marin County, Calif. She was 75. (AP Photo/File) 

Aside from being accused of being an ethnic fraud, Littlefeather’s career as an actor hardly compares to Sorvino’s. She had bit parts in seven low-budget independent or exploitation films in the 1970s, roles she mostly obtained after her 1973 Oscars appearance. While Littlefeather often claimed without evidence that the FBI worked to bar her from film industry roles, Native American scholars and film historians told this news organization that her limited acting skills probably had more to do than a supposed blacklisting for why she never built a more lasting Hollywood career.

GIFFONI VALLE PIANA, ITALY - JULY 20: Mira and Paul Sorvino attends 2013 Giffoni Film Festival photocall on July 20, 2013 in Giffoni Valle Piana, Italy. (Photo by Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images)
GIFFONI VALLE PIANA, ITALY – JULY 20: Mira and Paul Sorvino attends 2013 Giffoni Film Festival photocall on July 20, 2013 in Giffoni Valle Piana, Italy. (Photo by Stefania D’Alessandro/Getty Images) 

In a tweet Monday, Mira Sorvino said nothing about Littlefeather but expressed general dismay that her father wasn’t included in the broadcast segment Sunday night. Introduced by a tearful Travolta, the segment honored Olivia Newton-John, Kirstie Alley, James Caan, Raquel Welch and a number of other actors, as well as directors, writers, film technicians and even publicists whose names are probably less widely known to the general public.

“It is baffling beyond belief that my beloved father and many other amazing brilliant departed actors were left out,” said Mira Sorvino, who won a best supporting actress Oscar in 1995 for Woody Allen’s “Mighty Aphrodite.” “The Oscars forgot about Paul Sorvino, but the rest of us never will!!”

Mira Sorvino’s mother, Dee Dee Sorvino, called on the Academy to apologize to their family for only giving her husband brief mention on its website, People reported. 

“Paul Sorvino was one of the greatest actors in cinematic history in Hollywood,” Dee Dee Sorvino said in a statement. “It is unconscionable that he would be left out of the “In Memoriam” segment of the OscarsIt’s a three-hour show, they can’t give a couple more minutes to get it right? Paul Sorvino gave decades to this industry and was loved by all.”

Another notable omission from both the broadcast and online tributes was controversial actor Robert Blake, who died last week at age 89 of heart disease, the Los Angeles Times said. It might have been too late for the Academy to include Blake in its tributes, or perhaps he wouldn’t have been included anyway. Blake’s long career in Hollywood, including a starring role in the acclaimed 1967 film, “In Cold Blood,” was overshadowed by his arrest and subsequent acquittal in the 2001 shooting death of his second wife, Bonny Lee Bakley.

Meanwhile, Littlefeather’s sisters, Trudy Orlando and Rosalind Cruz, had worried for weeks that the Academy would consider including her in its “In Memoriam” tribute. They thought such an honor was possible, given that the Academy made a big show of celebrating herr as a Native American icon before her death of cancer in October.

Trudy Orlandi of Marin County said Sunday night she felt some relief that her sister was not included in the broadcast segment but said she was still “appalled” that her sister was memorialized on the Academy’s website and identified as an “activist.”

“She may have been a quasi-activist but a very weak activist,” Orlandi said. “She lived on the merits of other truly identified activists.”

Littlefeather’s other sister, Rosalind Cruz, told the New York Post last week that recognizing her sister in the “In Memoriam” segment would be the “biggest blunder in the history of the Oscars.”

“They will (include her) because they need to keep covering up for themselves,” Cruz. “They’re endorsing a Pretendian and keep pushing the lie and slander of our family and they don’t care.”

Last summer, the Academy apologized to Littlefeather for the rough treatment she received at the 1973 Oscars when she refused Brando’s Oscar to protest the negative stereotyping of Native Americans in Hollywood films and TV and to call attention to the occupation protest at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The Academy also held a gala celebration for her in September. It also continues to identify her as Apache and Yaqui in its museum and in videos and other materials posted on its website. It also has allowed her to share stories about her life and activism that either can’t be verified or have been disputed by her sisters or the historical record.

After these celebrations and Littlefeather’s death, her sisters realized the extent to which she had been telling reporters “lies” about her identity and her life, they said. Records show that she was born Marie Louise Cruz to Manuel and Geroldine Cruz, a Mexican American father and a White mother. Orlando and Cruz say their parents raised their three daughters in a loving, middle class home.

An investigation into their father’s Mexican ancestry by Native American journalist Jacqueline Keeler, going back to 1850, uncovered no ties between the Cruz family of Mexico and the White Mountain Apache or Yaqui tribes. The sisters have called on the Academy to remove its tributes to Littlefeather, who they say also falsely claimed that their father was an abusive, alcoholic Indian and that both their parents were too mentally ill to care for her.

In an email to this news organization, the Academy refused to answer multiple questions, including whether it tried to verify Littlefeather’s claims of tribal affiliation and if and how it vetted other statements she made about her family and her activism. It also refused to say whether she would be featured in its “In Memoriam” segment or how it chooses the people who are honored.

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