My first crush. Love of my life. I have followed your beautiful face for the last sixteen years, through the highs and lows of your career – from Titanic to Romeo and Juliet, to The Man in the Iron Mask to Basketball Diaries to The Departed. You have been with me through my tumultuous high school years, when reading Titanic fanfiction got me through what seemed like an endless barrage of algebra, chemistry, and physics classes; in college, when reading that same Titanic fanfiction got me through my seemingly never-ending thesis on James Joyce’s Ulysses; as an adult, when I can appreciate the man you have become, not only in your acting but as an animal activist and humanitarian.
Your work has exposed so much to me – from the poetry of Jim Carroll in Basketball Diaries, the Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet, to Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hughes’ relationship in The Aviator, to the horrors of the diamond trade in The Blood Diamond. I love the fact that when one visits your official website, you are greeted by a modest display of your latest films, but also by links to your current projects like the 11th Hour Auction for Wildlife Benefit at Christie’s, and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation — which works for such worthy causes as banning shark hunting and elephant poaching.
Unlike some actors of your generation, you seem to be fairly picky about what you lend your name to — only choosing projects that shed light on a particular issue, however subtle it may be. I do have a small issue with the fact that you still eat meat, given how much you care about the environment, but I let that slide for now. In every other way, you are my dream come true.
Over the last year, you have given stupendous performances in Django Unchained and The Great Gatsby. No matter which film you bring your talent to next, I will always plan to be there, popcorn in lap, waiting to see what you have chosen.
That is, until I saw this trailer for your next upcoming film, The Wolf of Wall Street:
I know that the blogs went haywire over this, saying how funny the film looks, how “lively and energetic!” People are curious to see you actually being funny for a change, and more importantly, I think people are responding to the fact that someone is finally pointing out the preposterousness of Wall Street — the greed, the idiocy, the perversity of the American Dream.
And I was all for it, until I saw this:
What are you thinking?
Are you really the same person who raised 38 million dollars for global conservation, and who sits on boards such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Global Green USA and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)? Seeing this is like a cold shower.
As many of you know, I am an animal activist myself. I refuse to support films and other entertainment that exploits animals – I won’t go the circus, to Seaworld, or to any resort that uses captive dolphins as entertainment for its guests. I’ve been vegan for almost three years. When I saw the chimp in this trailer, my heart absolutely sank. Young chimpanzees, like the one seen in this trailer, are often taken from their mothers when they are extremely young — almost immediately after birth — and the psychological repercussions of this are generally irreversible. When they become too big to be “cute” they are usually confined to tiny cages in solitary confinement.
Chimps over the age of eight can usually not be used in films because they could injure or kill a human — eight years is a tiny career for an animal who can live until they are almost 60 years old. Many chimps have spent upwards of 30 years in cages when they were no longer “needed.” It is not unusual for them to be castrated or for their teeth to be removed so that they pose less of a threat to humans. Take a look at Ricky, a chimp living at the sanctuary who was used for entertainment. The famous “chimp smile” that you see in movies is usually not expressing happiness or elation, but stress and fear. Like dolphins, their smiles do not convey the same thing that as human smiles.
Leo, I urge you to visit Chimp Sanctuary Northwest and Save the Chimps, both sanctuaries founded to provide a safe haven for chimps who were formerly used in labs and entertainment. Read their stories, look at their pictures, and watch their videos. These are intelligent, sentient beings who are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. Although the caregivers go out of their way in order to provide security, safety, comfort, and stimulation for these rescued chimps, many are scarred for life and may occasionally lash out or manifest their pain in different ways.
Foxie Chimpanzee, a resident of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, had several babies during her time in a biomedical research lab, all of whom were taken from her almost immediately after birth. After arriving at the sanctuary, her caregivers noticed that she adopted a doll, and, thanks to the generosity of donations, now has hundreds of dolls that she plays with every day. She holds it close to her body, carries it on her back, and mouths it like she would her own baby. A coincidence? Doubtful. More likely she is trying to display the maternal instinct that she was never allowed to express on her own offspring.
I don’t know the specifics about the monkey used in The Wolf of Wall Street. For all I know, it could be owned by a very caring and conscientious person who lives in a place where their chimps are treated as well as they should be. But until I know that for sure, I won’t be supporting this film.
All the money in the world could be raised to heighten awareness of the wrongdoings that are being done to our environment and its habitants. But what type of message does this movie promote if you are doing the same thing that you constantly speak out against?
It pains me to say this. If you look at my blog, my Facebook and Twitter pages, you can see that I have you and Kate Winslet set as my background image. I still get Google alerts on you. But I have to say, I’m very disappointed.
I will be sitting this one out.