Environmentalists accuse Leonardo DiCaprio’s new HBO climate documentary of promoting ‘white supremacy’ & a ‘white savior complex’
Leonardo DiCaprio’s new HBO climate documentary “Ice on Fire” is under fire from environmentalists for promoting “white supremacy ” and of the “erasure of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.”
The U.S. based Rowan Institute is going after DiCaprio and HBO for the film’s “white savior complex.” “The recent release of the film ‘Ice on Fire’ demonstrates that white supremacy and western colonialism continues to dominate the mainstream environmental movement’s narratives and framing of climate solutions,” the group declared.
The HBO film, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, is directed by Leila Connors and produced and narrated by DiCaprio.
“The white savior complex is a social artifact of colonial history, it assumes the global south’s inferiority and their consent for white saviorhood, which is both harmful and intellectually bankrupt,” the Rowan Institute wrote. (Climate Depot note: Other racially charged controversies continue on the environmental left. See: Longtime climate activist David Roberts unleashes on fellow activists: ‘I am sick to f*cking death of hearing white men drone on about climate, myself included’)
Rowan Institute issued this statement on June 12, 2019, noting that DiCaprio’s HBO film follows the “narratives of climate solutions that repeat the erasure of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.” The recent release of the film ‘Ice on Fire’ demonstrates that white supremacy and western colonialism continues to dominate the mainstream environmental movement’s narratives and framing of climate solutions. The film does not highlight the leadership or scholarship of a single Black, Indigenous, or other women of color despite the fact that such women of color are leading the global frontlines of climate justice movements.”
We stand in solidarity together to uphold an anti-colonial and anti-racist vision of climate leadership. Please join us. pic.twitter.com/82hvOiOotE
— Rowan Institute (@rowan_institute) June 12, 2019
#IceOnFire is now streaming on @HBODocs. I hope audiences will be inspired to take action to protect our planet. Special thank you to director @Leilaconners and everyone that helped bring this project to life. pic.twitter.com/cxqNQ2wwOi
— Leonardo DiCaprio (@LeoDiCaprio) June 12, 2019
This is just the latest in a round of racially charged climate conflicts within the movement. Climate Change activism is increasingly being divided into gender, racial and age categories. See: ‘Global warming’ caused by ‘white people’, ‘white men, ‘kids’ & ‘men’
Climate activist Eric Holthaus chimed in as well against DiCaprio’s film.
“After watching the full @IceonFireFilm, I am deeply disappointed. We hear from no women of color at all. We must do better. There are so many stories of a better future that are being erased and silenced, and we need to hear them,” Holthaus wrote on June 12, 2019.
After watching the full @IceonFireFilm, I am deeply disappointed. We hear from no women of color at all.
We must do better. There are so many stories of a better future that are being erased and silenced, and we need to hear them.
— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) June 12, 2019
Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘Ice on Fire’ Whitewashes Climate Justice, Prompts Backlash
The film ignores the contributions of non-white people to climate justice.
By Soumashree Sarkar
The Rowan Institute, an American think-tank, issued a sharply worded statement on June 12 condemning what has essentially been a sustained effort by the west to whitewash the war against the climate crisis. The statement, triggered by the release of the HBO film Ice on Fire, focused on what it called the erasure of the contributions of black, American indigenous and other people of color, and highlights the fallacy of what its writers call ‘the white savior complex’ in spite of common knowledge that white people have been most responsible for the crisis.
“The white savior complex is a social artifact of colonial history, it assumes the global south’s inferiority and their consent for white saviorhood, which is both harmful and intellectually bankrupt,” the statement, lauded by many for its crisp phrasing, read.
Ice on Fire is a 91-minute documentary on the climate crisis directed by Leila Connors and produced and narrated by actor Leonardo DiCaprio. A big budget production with an opening at the Cannes Film Festival, the film has been credited at once with being predictable and offering hope in the form of viable solutions to beat the global emergency.
DiCaprio himself is an avowed environmentalist (his Twitter bio says as much) and had produced his first film on the issue, a call-to-action documentary called The 11th Hour, with pretty much the same team, back in 2007.
“What makes the film different is that 11 years after The 11th Hour, we now know how to fix the climate change problem, so why don’t we just do it?” the film asks in its official summary, featured on the Cannes website.
The film is unsurprisingly grand, with a strength of purpose that reviews say is emboldened by sweeping drone shots of rapidly disappearing land and greenery. Yet in its approach, it seems to have corresponded to the same narrative of erasure that colored champions of climate justice have been used to.
As the Rowan Institute’s statement notes, the film ignores the contributions of non-white people in the field as well as fails to highlight “the leadership or scholarship of a single black, indigenous, or other women of color, despite the fact that such women of color are leading the global frontlines of climate justice movements.”
Long before a film produced by a multimillionaire, Oscar-winning and white actor was enjoying widespread visibility with a claim to offering the way out of climate crisis, the magazine Gal Dem noted that environmental justice groups like the Indigenous Environmental Network, Global Grassroots Justice Alliance and the Climate Justice Alliance centre had been eager to focus on traditional ecological knowhow and century-old grassroots-level solutions to climatic emergencies.
In comparison, a white-majority civil disobedience group headquartered in England and aiming to fight climate change, called Extinction Rebellion, has repeatedly grabbed headlines in the seven months since its formation, thanks to its its members’ primary objective to get arrested. The group focuses on rhetoric that has been labelled tone deaf because it doesn’t recognise that while its members festively court arrest, persons of colour have little choice in the matter.
The media coverage of Extinction Rebellion is also at odds with the relative silence about grassroots campaigns across the world, including in India.
A 2013 report in Grist noted that whitewashing the climate justice movement has a wider repercussion in the form of smaller environmental justice groups ending up with “a fraction of the funding that the big groups receive”.
In 2015, a London march against climate change organised by the likes of ITV and BBC was supposed to be led by the group The Wretched of the Earth, which represented communities of colour on the frontlines of climate change. At the last moment, the decision was reversed, leading to questions of racism arising anew within the movement.
In 2013, Washington Post reported the palpable lack of diversity in the US’s environment justice groups. It highlighted a case study of Waterkeeper Alliance, a New York organisation, where one Fred Tutman was the only black ‘riverkeeper’ among 200 charged by the group with protecting the country’s rivers.
Instances of white people laying claim to land, people and resources are not new – a fact an Ugandan man in London recalled when he ‘discovered’ the city’s Thames river and named it Gulu, like the colonialists of yore had done to more than half the world.