The180·The 180

A message for Leonardo DiCaprio: indigenous actors need more than just a shout-out

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio made waves when he mentioned indigenous people, and indigenous rights, in his Golden Globe acceptance speech. But Ryan McMahon says it's too early to get excited: his people have a long way to go before they get their rightful place in film.
Filming of The Revenant. This scene featured Saskatchewan's Isaiah Tootoosis. (Duane Howard)

Perhaps the year's most celebrated film, The Revenant is getting applause from more than just film critics. It has also received praise for its authentic depictions of indigenous culture, and use of Aboriginal actors.  

The film's star, Leonardo DiCaprio, earned further praise last week for acknowledging indigenous peoples, and speaking up for their rights, while accepting the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor: "It is time that we recognize your history, and that we protect your indigenous is time we heard your voice."

The speech caught the ears and hearts of many, especially those who had roles as extras in the film. Karlene Cutknife is one of the many residents of Maskwacis, Alberta, who got a part: "It was heartwarming...for Leonard DiCaprio to acknowledge that, it was a blessing." 

But Ryan McMahon is holding his praise. The host of the Red Man Laughing podcast knows first hand how tough it is for aboriginal actors and filmmakers to get work representing their own stories. While he recognizes the great work The Revenant did to accurately portray indigenous culture, he points out that it is still not a movie about indigenous people — and it's still hard for aboriginal actors to get roles where they aren't assigned to play "Native" characters like "horseback Native," or the "Old Timey Kind," wearing a loincloth. He's holding out for the day when aboriginal actors can play doctors, and lawyers, and the lead in boring rom-coms where everyone drinks Starbucks and shops at The Gap. 

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