Double-Edged Sword of Allyship

Leonardo DiCaprio


The 2016 Golden Globe Ceremony marked a celebratory day for actor Leonardo Dicaprio. The internet buzzed, ranted, and raved as the actor was awarded and claimed his award for Best Actor in a Drama, namely The Revenant. He took a moment to not only speak about the First Nation’s but to thank those that voted for him. Although this was a seemingly positive move for the actor and his activism, when he was awarded his momentous Oscar a few months later, his speech focused on environmentalism and his activism. Suddenly, his mention of First Nation’s Peoples were ignored and silent. On a larger scale, the Academy Awards are more important and more buzz-worthy but Dicaprio was silent. Allyship in terms of non-natives is a compelling issue and for an actor that took an opportunity to speak out against it at the Golden Globes but not at the Oscars raises some important questions. Although Dicaprio’s comments were well-intended, it doesn’t seem enough and seems lost on the larger audience.

In their book, All the Real Indians Died Off: And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker, detail Dicaprio’s effort to thank and bring recognition to the tribes. In a moment of positive awareness, recognition, and allyship, Dunbar-Ortiz and Gilio-Whitaker detail his speech in his words “[as he] wanted to share this award with all First Nations people represented in this film…It is time we recognize your history and that we protect your Indigenous lands from corporate interests” (Loc. 2234/3322)*. While by all means, we should applaud Dicaprio in his efforts to bring awareness to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film The Revenant. However, the film’s landing on the internet was not centered around the Natives represented nor Dicaprio’s speech – it instead turned into memes and humorous depictions focused on the bear scene in the book. Numerous other comedians, such as Johan Hill, focused not on the Natives represented in the film or involved in the production of the film, but on the outrageous and blow-out-of-proportion scenes involved in with the animals of the film. Even Dicaprio, in his Academy Awards/Oscars speech, foregoes – a larger scale and more watched award show, did not touch on the First Nation’s People. His Oscars speech, which proved more buzz-worthy for the actor, focused on environmentalism and climate change but did not mention what he had spoken before about the Native Peoples.

While Dicaprio had good intentions, his “allyship” to Native Peoples was not enough. It is curious why he chose to forego mentioning or thanking or recognizing the Native Peoples at the much larger, much more publicized event. Dunbar-Ortiz and Gilio Whitaker outline this as “Native American political struggles have merged with global Indigenous rights movement that itself is inextricably bound to the global environmental and climate justice movements” (Loc. 2234/3322). Although climate change is an important issue to discuss and focus on, Native American struggles cannot be exploited and lost in the shadow of this issue. Native American struggles should and can exist in their own sphere and should have to be lost in global citizen’s issues.


Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne, and Gilio-Whitaker, Dina. All the Real Indians Died Off: And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans. Beacon Press, Boston. 2016.

Lenker, Margaret. “Leonardo DiCaprio Uses Oscar Speech to Speak Out on Climate Change.” Variety, Variety Media, 29 Feb. 2016,

Robehmed, Natalie. “Leonardo DiCaprio Wins Best Actor At The 2016 Golden Globe Awards.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 11 Jan. 2016,


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