by Maria Vera
At the 2016 Academy Awards night this past February, Leonardo DiCaprio was inarguably one of the most prominent winners. Taking home the Best Actor award for his role in 2015’s The Revenant, the 41-year-old DiCaprio quickly dispensed with the usual thank-you’s to cast and crew – then devoted the rest of his time at the podium to some serious comments about his other great passion, eco-activism and green energy. While his words on the crisis posed by climate change earned a standing ovation from his peers at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, they also provoked swift criticism from many who accused him of fact twisting and hypocrisy.
DiCaprio is a Hollywood heavyweight, with six Best Actor nominations behind this February’s win. In a career that began with roles in television’s 1990s soap opera Santa Barbara and the comedy Growing Pains, DiCaprio has won 45 awards, including three Golden Globes, two Teen Choice awards and one Screen Actors Guild award. He vaulted to heartthrob status as Jack opposite Kate Winslet as Rose in 1997’s top-grossing Titanic, and he’s played an array of odd and complex characters including Howard Hughes (The Aviator) and J. Edgar Hoover (J. Edgar). At one point, though, he considered walking away from acting to devote himself to his lesser-known career as an environmental activist.
His Oscars speech may have been the first time many viewers heard of DiCaprio’s commitment to more sustainable forms of energy and environmental conservation, but the actor has been deeply involved in these efforts for years. The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation was founded in 1998 to promote biodiversity and support threatened ecosystems around the world. Since it was founded, the LDF has donated millions of dollars to support the conservation of animals and ecosystems, including Nepal’s tiger population and various ocean habitats. Additionally, the actor has partnered with environmental groups and media outlets including Netflix to produce a series of documentaries under the title Green Planet Rising to educate about climate change and encourage viewers to move towards 100 percent renewable energy.
Though DiCaprio contemplated abandoning acting in favor of environmentalism, he notes that his high profile in film has given him a far-reaching platform for raising awareness about the threat posed by climate change and our consumption of dirty forms of energy. Those two paths converge in documentary projects such as the 2007 documentary The 11th Hour, which he produced and narrated, and 2014’s Cowspiracy: the Sustainability Secret, for which he was executive producer. He also narrated the 2015 short Carbon, one of the Green Planet Rising projects, which explores the dangers of the continued use of carbon-based forms of energy. He encourages the use of greener energy forms such as wind, solar and hydro power and in response to this short film, some lawmakers are starting to generate ideas to make these more sustainable resources cheaper. The results from this small project can already be seen and recognized. According to Alberta Energy, solar power actually became cheaper than natural gas as many companies become dedicated to the use of renewable energy.
Despite DiCaprio’s various environmental efforts and projects, his activism has still been met with criticism. It seems that many accuse the actor of leaving a massive carbon footprint of his own from constant travel, movie projects that require massive movement of crews and equipment around the world, and vacations with various women. That widely shared Oscars speech garnered its share of criticism too, as some observers accused DiCaprio of using his time in front of the camera to for a lecture, instead of more sincere and lengthy thanks to The Revenant’s cast and crew. Others challenged his statements and called him ill-informed and manipulative.
However, no matter what the critics say, DiCaprio and his Foundation continue to focus their efforts on the environment, climate change, and renewable energy. With this new Netflix documentary series, DiCaprio aims to promote sustainable energy practices and the conservation of various ecosystems on Earth. Additionally, DiCaprio hopes to give these hard-working filmmakers recognition and a voice in the film industry through this partnership. For DiCaprio, this year’s Oscar win allowed both actor and eco-warrior a world stage to make a plea for a sustainable future.