Why Leonardo DiCaprio’s Golden Globes Speech Will Go Down In History

The 73rd Annual Golden Globes Awards Ceremony was a big night in Hollywood.

“A” list celebrities were out in force anxious to see who the winners and losers would be in what is often thought as the Oscar’s most reliable prognosticator.

Millions tuned in to see the likes of Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Schumer and Matt Damon glammed up, decked out and walking the red carpet smiling for the cameras.

But what made the night bigger than awards, terrible jokes and fashion faux pas’ was that in his acceptance speech for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, for his role in The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio did something not done since 1973.

When DiCaprio accepted his award, he paid tribute and respect to the Indigenous people around the world and brought attention to their issues:

I want to share this award with all the First Nations people represented in this film and all the Indigenous communities around the world,” DiCaprio said. “It is time that we recognized your history and that we protect your indigenous lands from corporate interests and people that are out there to exploit them. It is time that we heard your voice and protected this planet for future generations.”

WATCH: Leonardo DiCaprio Golden Globes speech

For those unaware, First Nations is a term used to reference the people in Canada once termed Indians. In the United States, the term is Native American.

What made DiCaprio’s speech special was that this was the first time since 1973 an important Hollywood actor during a major award ceremony acknowledged the serious issues that Native Americans and First Nation people are facing.

The first one to do it was Marlon Brando- sort of.

In 1973, Brando won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in The Godfather. Instead of accepting the award, Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American actress and activist, in his stead to stage a protest and refuse the award because of the treatment of American Indians by the film and television industries during the protests at Wounded Knee, SD.

Watch: Sacheen Littlefeather refuses to accept Marlon Brando’s 1973 Oscar for Best Actor. 

In refusing the award, Brando brought much needed attention to the struggles of Native Americans who were suffering in an era of corrupt government, severe racism, extreme poverty and crime rates resulting in the lowest life expectancy rates in the nation.

Fast-forward forty-three years, DiCaprio picked up where Brando left off.

In sharing his award with First Nations and Indigenous communities, DiCaprio addressed two very important issues: 1) Recognizing the importance of Indigenous history (a topic I have written on before) and 2) Protecting indigenous lands from attack by corporations.

There are few things more important to First Nations and Native Americans alike than their history and land.

Paramount to mankind’s physical survival is his connection to the Earth.

Paramount to mankind’s physical survival is his connection to the Earth. Tribes on both sides of the border teach that the Earth is our sacred mother and that mankind, as her children have a duty to protect her.

With respect to cultural survival, Tribal nations teach their traditions and customs orally from grandparent to grandchild through songs and stories. Cultural survival is only possible when accurate history is taught and protected.

DiCaprio’s speech – like Brando’s protest – comes at an appropriate time where Indigenous culture and land are under attack.

Native cultural survival has been threatened due to years of cultural extermination tactics designed to solve the “Indian Problem” such as the Indian Boarding School systems in both the United States, and Canada. The effects of these efforts to assimilate the “savage” and are still felt across Native communities today.

Since 1492, Native North American lands have always been under threat from government and corporate invaders.

Legislation such as the Dawes Allotment Act, an appalling piece of U.S. legislation, removed land from Native American tribes and unjustly gave ownership to non-natives.

More recently Indigenous lands are threatened by the Keystone pipeline project, fracking in the Dakotas, crude oil extraction of the Alberta oil sands and the suspiciously-passed Oak Flat copper mining legislation in Arizona to name a few.

And while it was cool to hear DiCaprio – the man who has played Howard Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover, Jack from Titanic and even the Wolf of Wall Street give a shout out to a portion of the population that is both misrepresented and underrepresented in film and pop culture – DiCaprio’s words were more than just a “Hi Mom!” moment on television.

DiCaprio’s speech signifies that some very important people in the world are aware of the struggles of Indigenous people. DiCaprio inspired many to keep fighting a fight that if won will yield benefits for Natives and non-Natives alike.

It’s not easy to do what DiCaprio did. Taking a political stand has the potential to ruin Hollywood careers. Littlefeather was an aspiring actress whose career never really got off the ground due in part to her speech at the 1973 Oscars.

But unlike Littlefeather and Brando, the reception to DiCaprio’s words seemed more positive, and even though the orchestra tried to play DiCaprio off the stage he kept speaking until we heard what he had to say.

In a world that has literally tried to exterminate Native Americans and First Nations alike, DiCaprio’s words injected a shot of hope, energy and pride to a people trying to stay true to their values.

All the best to you this award season Mr. DiCaprio, thank you for what you have said and may you finally win the Oscar you deserve.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place. 

Cover Photo Credit: Fights Fights and Fights/Youtube (Screengrab)


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About the Author
Sam Crowfoot was born in Utah and raised on an Indian reservation in Alberta, Canada. He graduated from Brigham Young University and the University of Wisconsin Law School. He is deadly from three-point range and shoots photography on the side. He lives in the Phoenix area with his wife and four children.

4 comments on Why Leonardo DiCaprio’s Golden Globes Speech Will Go Down In History

  1. Sam Crowfoot says:

    In writing this article I completely forgot to talk about the fight that Native Hawaiian Islanders are currently fighting against the TMT. The indigenous people of the pacific islands are also fighting to protect their lands and they are be included in the groups of people referenced by DiCaprio.

    Here is a link explaining the controversy.


  2. Wayne says:

    Stop stealing my brainwaves! Lol. Dude, I was comparing and contrasting Brando’s stand and DiCaprio’s gesture all day too. Thank you for articulating my scatter brain thoughts into something of substance. Kudos bro

    1. Sam Crowfoot says:

      Wayne – thanks for the comment. Great minds think alike!

  3. Jeremy Wood says:

    Great commentary, Sam. Let’s hope Leo backs his words up with action like Brando.

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