Surprising absolutely no one who’s been paying attention to the awards season, Leonardo DiCaprio won Best Actor in a Drama for The Revenant at the Golden Globes on Sunday. What may also not come as a surprise, considering the actor’s relative outspokenness about certain social and political issues, is that he set aside a few moments at the end of his speech to advocate for a cause.
A bit uncomfortably, said cause was that of indigenous peoples:
And lastly, I want to share this award with all the First Nations people represented in this film and all the indigenous communities around the world. It is time that we recognize your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them. It is time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations.
What makes this moment so awkward and cynical is the fact that it’s so at odds with the movie DiCaprio and director Alejandro González Iñárritu produced. The Revenant is only the latest in a long history of major Hollywood studio films featuring indigenous characters that is told from the white male perspective. Their history is only “recognized” here in marginal juxtaposition to that of a white fur trader who is mauled by a bear, left to die, and then seeks revenge for the murder of his half-indigenous son (who barely says more than a few lines in the entire movie). The Pawnee tribesman (played by Arthur RedCloud) who later assists him in his journey home? He’s much more a mysterious, kind person of color than any real, flesh-and-bone character. And while the film employed Native American performers from a dozen reserves in Alberta, those performers have, needless to say, not been the focus of the film’s publicity or awards campaign, though DiCaprio has credited RedCloud with helping to psych him up to eat that bison liver.
Does DiCaprio believe in this cause? I’m sure he does. Does his movie have anything, truly, to do with this cause? Nope. But it’s awards season, so sincerity doesn’t matter. Cynically hitching your movie to a cause everyone can get behind—that matters.