An Open Letter to Leonardo DiCaprio: Why I Won’t Be Seeing “The Wolf of Wall Street”

leo wolf of wall st

Dear Leo,

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.

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 10.12.27 AM

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:

wolf of wall street leo monkey

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.

Emily the 1st. Photo: Save the Chimps, Inc.

Emily the 1st. Photo: Save the Chimps, Inc.

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.

Photo: Save the Chimps, Inc.

Ricky. Photo: Save the Chimps, Inc.

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. Photo: Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest

Foxie. Photo: Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest

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.

wolf of wall st monkey

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.

Categories: Entertainment, Movies

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16 replies

  1. maybe ,a piece could be done on how this chimp lives in real life, when he’s not acting—that would interesting————or, maybe, marty will take him out of the film—–

    • I really expected more from Leo and Marty. If they do release how this chimp lives in real life, I would be interested to see it. Most entertainment chimps really don’t have good lives — it’s not like dogs.

      • And dogs always have good lives, is that what you’re trying to say?
        That people spend on caring about dogs as they do for chimps?
        Well, dogs aren’t endangered species and won’t be for a long time.
        What does it have to do with a movie, that’s all I’m wondering about.

  2. Hey i worked with the chimp in a certain movie. If i didn’t think i’d be breaking my SAG/AFTRA NDA, i would tell you some stories. What i can say without fear of a lawsuit is that this particular chimp is extremely well cared for, probably better than most people treat their dogs.

    • I appreciate your commenting, but what I want to know is what they plan to do with this chimp once it’s entertainment days are over. I strongly believe that animals do not belong in entertainment, however I would feel better about it if, as you say, the animal were well taken care of. However, most civilians do not have the space, time, energy, or education to provide a stimulating and enriching life for these animals. Furthermore, what will happen to him once his entertainment days are over?

      • Interesting thing is that chimps get more space in such blogs than little people, as if they aren’t exploited too, but yes, of course, they have brains and do it for money.

        I have adopted 7 dogs and 11 cats right out of the streets, frozen, miserable and waiting to die, get shot or run over by a car. I don’t have means for that actually, but I keep them safe, fed, vet is doing his job on a regular basis and they’re absolute charms. If I had a space or lived in an area where there are baby chimps, I’d adopt one, no matter the babies tend to grow up.
        I don’t throw grown ups on the streets.

        I think the point here is somehow missed.

        There are things that are simply done, no arguing about it.
        People should get over it.

  3. What i can say is this. I can assure you that this chimp will be well cared for when his acting days are over, far into his graying years. His caretakers have a large sanctuary for animals of the type that are unwated, neglected, and cast aside. That is what they do, and this chimp was one of those animals that they rescued. They treat him as if he was family and they have 2 older chimps as well, again in a large santaury where they are not mistreated, but loved for the awe inspiring beings that they are. They have the space, the ways, and the means to take care of these animals well into their twighlight years. That said, prior to doing any work with him (the chimp), I spent about 2 hours alone with his caretakers before i even met the 3 year. I can say that his caretakers were more concerned about my character and my heart, than they were about the chimp somehow harming me. They wanted to see if they could trust me before i even met their chimp. When they were finally sure i was solid, they proclaimed “you’re a gentle hearted, kind man… (insert chimp’s name here) is going to love you”, and they were right. I spent another hour after meeting the chimp (he went to bed), asking questions and getting into greater detail about who these people are and what they do with their animals, because it was important to me. They do have a true love of animals, you can see it in people’s eyes and how they are when they are with their pets. I would equate their behavior towards this chimp on par with watching someone play with their beloved dog. Yes, they are somehow able to mix in an occasional job for the chimp, and there is some training like there would be with a dog, but they choose his jobs very judicouly, and it is really not what they are truly all about in my opinion. I am positive he will be well cared for throughout his life, will be loved and stimulated as much as possible. I was told if i am ever in the area (which is out of state for me), to come by and pay a visit. I intend on doing so if i ever am.

    • Aaron, thank you for speaking your mind.
      It took me years to accept Leonardo as a serious actor without that baby-face Titanic phenomenon (though I loved the movie) and at the precise moment when he practically blew everyone around with his performance, a chimp is in question?
      Come on. I am a big fan of animals, saving probably a lot more than my situation allows, not living in a country with people asylums let alone animals’, but spit on a movie like this for the sake of a chimp who’s probably well off?
      What, let’s make a documentary about chimps without chimps.
      Let’s make a prohibition movie without bootlegging.
      Let’s make “Aviator” without … jet fuel. Or all the stuff this actor was going through while preparing for each of his movies. Come on.
      This is so narrow-minded and unsubstantiated I can only say once again, Aaron, thanks for your opinion.
      I cannot even talk to the page author.

      No grudges. But this is quite beyond movies and what we actually witness in life.

  4. Thank you for taking the time to respond to this, I appreciate it. So the chimp was rescued when it was almost an infant, then? Was it born to a mother in captivity and living in a bad situation and rescued? I only ask because usually baby chimps are more viable in the entertainment industry than adults. Usually they are castoffs once they stop being “cute.” I think that as an environmentalist and animal activist, Leo should really make a point of illuminating how this chimp lives, because I can tell you that a lot of his fans are not happy over his latest move.

    • Sure thing – I’m happy to have been able to provide some background. The story that I was told did not include the chimps whereabouts prior to being rescued, but I was made to understand it was not a good situation and that he is in a much better place now. As it stands now, I’d be willing to bet money that the scene has been cut from the movie.

      • Wow, really? I’d love it if they went public with the story, but that’s probably too much to ask. I still won’t be seeing this film simply on principle, but your story might persuade others to see it. I still think it was an asinine move on DiCaprio’s part and I really have lost some respect for him, which is even difficult for me to say.

    • As if Leo hasn’t done enough in comparison to others?
      By advertising diesel – free cars for Tesla and bunch of other things?
      I can’t really understand how you can say you expected more from two out of greatest names in the cinema, who gave enormous contribution to what we call 7th art or whatever.
      There are things which have to be done.

      • Maximalla, you seem to be vacillating between saying that “people” should get over this blatant example of animal cruelty and also responding to every single one of my comments. So if I should simply “get over it,” shouldn’t you?

        And what point am I missing, exactly? I said that most civilians do not have the space, knowledge, or means to provide rescued and rehabilitated chimps with a fulfilling and stimulated environment in their retirement. You also mentioned that you refuse to talk to the “page author,” who is me, but yet you are commenting on MY blog. If you don’t care to engage, then don’t post at all. Surely you must know that I see and read your responses.

        As for your last point, I don’t understand the comparison between what Martin Scorcese and Leonardo DiCaprio have done in the past (I’m not sure if you’re speaking of their cinematic work or DiCaprio’s environmental activism) and what they are actively choosing to do in this film. Yes DiCaprio has done more work for the environment than his peers, and that has done an enormous amount of good. But does that mean he gets a free pass from here on out? That’s like saying that as long as you put in your time going to church and serving on charities, you can be cruel elsewhere in your life. It just doesn’t make sense.

        If you are happy with this film, the actors’ performances, and Scorcese’s direction, then fine. If you took the time to carefully read my post, you will see that I was a fan of both Scorcese and DiCaprio before this. This is in no way a smear campaign on either of them — they have both created masterpieces throughout their careers and I am in no way arguing that. I refuse to support it with my hard-earned money because I feel that both of them should know better. I can elect whether or not to see this film, and I choose not to.

  5. DiCaprio is exploiting a young chimp named “Chance.” Chance’s real name, before he got a name change in the grand Hollywood tradition, was Aiden. A family bought him as an infant from a commercial chimp breeder at a Missouri place called Savannahland, taking him from his mother. Then they decided to dump him. A renowned chimp welfare advocate tried, and failed, to convince them to send Aiden to an accredited zoo or sanctuary. The family refused. Instead, they sold him to infamous chimp exploiter Pam Rosaire, in order to recoup some of the money they spent on him. Pam and her sister Kay call themselves a “sanctuary,” but Pam continues to stage chimp shows and markets the chimps for show biz gigs.

    • Thank you for commenting, Dawn. I know that you have a lifetime of insight into this cruel business and I appreciate your bringing facts to this debate. I still stand by the fact that I will not support this film.

  6. There’s also a scene where Jonah Hill’s character ‘swallows’ a goldfish but he stated in an interview that there were 3 PETA handlers supervising and the fish was not harmed.

    I think Leonardo DiCaprio cares about the environment more genuinely than most celebrities. I think you can’t keep everyone happy. It’s not enough for the film people to treat the monkey right but the monkey must have a happy, pleasant life from childhood to death? You realize that a lot of human actors and child actors face far more abuse and neglect? Let me guess: “they can speak for themselves and monkeys can’t”?

    WoWS and Leo deserve the Oscar nominations in my opinion. This is a great commentary piece and he gave an outstanding performance. The women in this film are degraded in ever which way but you don’t see feminists in an uproar do you? That’s because they know that it’s a movie that if anything will highlight the issue.

    However this is just my personal opinion and I respect yours.

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