I’m Not A Fan Of Leonardo DiCaprio: A Critique of ‘Before The Flood’

One thing I miss about home (funnily enough) are my communications classes, where we get to critique, dissect and analyse what’s going on in the world of media. And anyone who’s been paying attention to Mr Leonardo DiCaprio lately (and let’s be honest, who hasn’t?) would know that he, along with National Geographic released the feature length documentary titled ‘Before The Flood.’ You can check out the trailer below.

Now we all know that good ol Leo is an avid environmentalist. We’ve seen him give fancy speeches at the UN, talk with Barack Obama and grow an awesome hippy beard. Whilst I support the fact that Leo (a global sensation) can bring attention to the pressing issue of Climate Change… I’m not entirely sure that this movie did that. And maybe that’s just because I’ve seen my fair share of environmental movies and am pretty well informed about the issue, but come on Leo, I think you just scratched the surface on this one. So here are my major critiques of this film.


Why was it focused around you, Leo?

Leo, hearing about the painting that hung above your crib as a child was lovely and all but why was this whole documentary focused around you. It was you being shocked by air pollution in China, you being flown in a helicopter to see the tar sands in Alberta, you who met the Pope and Barack Obama. And sure, I’m glad that you found enlightenment and were motivated to take action upon seeing and experiencing these things… but realistically, Climate Change is not going to directly affect you, a wealthy actor from California who will still be able to afford food, petrol, clothes and energy. I know that Climate Change will affect us all, but it affects us unequally. It affects the poor in India who have no access to energy. It affects those who can’t farm their own food. And it affects those who don’t have time to rebuild their communities before another hurricane destroys it (again). It affects First Nations people losing their sacred land to be mined. The focus should’ve been shifted towards these individuals to create a more emotive and real portrayal of the effects of Climate Change. Stop taking all the spotlight man!


Climate Change is a people problem

I believe a huge issue around Climate Change is the way it’s framed in the media. This goes beyond the whole ‘showing climate deniers on news stories etc’ because we all know that’s bullsh*t. I’m talking about from the environmentalists. We’ve all seen the image of a polar bear standing on a melting piece of ice before. We’ve seen before and after pictures of melting glaciers. We’ve seen the effects of more frequent and severe storm patterns. Climate Change is a human problem. We obviously haven’t responded well to seeing nature suffer, but what about us humans? Given our current refugee crisis – especially Australia’s attitude towards refugees, perhaps nothing will change us.

It perpetuates the idea of ‘developing countries’ 

I’m not denying there are huge differences between the developed / developing world, the Global North / Global South, First / Third World… whatever you want to call it. But I’m sick of seeing countries like China and India be portrayed as countries with no consideration for the environment. And that as they go their their economic and industrial boom, it’s portrayed that they are destroying the environment faster than ‘we’ have. Of course this is a significant issue but these countries and the people who are affected by air pollution, restricted access to energy, flooding, storms etc, are protesting, innovating and acting. If Climate Change is a global challenge then we really need to act globally. Therefore we need to move away from this backward notion that developing countries are bad guys of Climate Change because that’s simply not true… ahem… Australia, United States, Canada…

There was nothing groundbreaking

Ice caps and glaciers melting, sea levels rising, the Pacific Islands going under water creating Climate Refugees, tar sands in Alberta, China has bad air pollution, we should all eat less meat, America and the majority of the West’s economy built on fossil fuels….? This is Climate Change 101. I didn’t feel that this documentary contributed anything new to my knowledge of Climate Change or how to combat it.


On The Bright Side

OK fine Leo, I’ll give you two compliments. But that’s it.

Firstly was your interview with Sunita Narain. When she shook her head at you, damn did I resonate with that shake. Her perspective an extremely valid point. That people who have absolutely no access to electricity don’t care if their energy comes from renewable or non-renewable sources. It just needs to be cheap. And she strongly suggests that the US and other developed countries should be leading the way in making renewable energy affordable and accessible.

And secondly was his interview with astronaut turned environmentalist and innovator Piers Sellers who has dedicated the rest of his life to mapping Climate Change. He talks about seeing the world from such a unique perspective (from space) and how that experience changed his perspective on Climate Change and it’s representation. I believe he’s nailed the thought that we need to look at Climate Change from a completely different perspective and if it takes someone who’s seen the world from outer space, then so be it.

OK so I know I’ve been extremely critical and it’s not entirely Leo’s fault (I’ll still love you Leo). But Climate Change is urgent, and it’s going to take more than a celebrity talking to some scientists, standing in front of a melting glacier to help. Especially when we’re hearing a repetitive narrative.


For more information on what you can do or how you can get involved, check out Oxfam’s Climate Change page here: https://www.oxfam.org.au/what-we-do/food-and-climate/climate-change/





6 thoughts on “I’m Not A Fan Of Leonardo DiCaprio: A Critique of ‘Before The Flood’

  1. I think it’s fair to critique and everyone has their opinions, but for me, this documentary literally re-opened my eyes. I have not heard a damn thing about climate change since primary school personally (obviously everyone’s experience is different). The fact that it has genuinely made me want to stop eating red meat and source something more sustainable, it’s done exactly what it needed to do. The documentary made me so emotional, and Leo was the big focus, but I think in a way he can play the average person, not everyone is an activist and knows their shit, for Leo so be shocked by things is a real eye-opener for people who don’t get to see or hear about these things.
    Nothing new, of course not, we know what needs to be done, what more news could be brought up? Renewable energy needs to be the focus, and this docco goes on about it. I don’t think it was meant to be an informative piece, but more of an emotional one, to reinspire the world and get the people of these nations on-board and active. In my eyes, there hasn’t been anything on climate change quite to this scale. Leo is a very likable character in the world and a big character in modern media, might not tip the scales but I think this film will do good to the issue.
    I would like to think of myself as an intellectual person who genuinely cares and loves our earth, but climate change has really not been on my mind lately. So even if a few of the people who watch it get re-awakened about climate change (such as myself), then how bad can a carbon neutral film, re-inspiring the world and doing nothing but promote more change, really be?
    Good read though and well put together article, if anything it’s all just making me more passionate!

    1. Yo thank you so much for taking the time to read my piece. I’m glad that this film has made you passionate and re-opened your eyes to the issues of Climate Change. I definitely don’t deny the immense power that celebrities have, especially someone like Leo who is so renowned and so likeable. I’m glad to see him using his status for something like this. And I think a general audience who has put Climate Change on the back burner for the past few years will, like you said, have their eyes re-opened to the issue. Personally, I study global sustainability and am involved in volunteer programs with NGO’s and university societies who frequently discuss Climate Change and act on it. I became a vegetarian at the beginning of this year and attended the People’s Climate March in Sydney last year. I know it’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but that’s my way of trying to make a difference.
      I’m interested to see the more widespread response to this film and see what changes it influences. Like addressed in the film, people are extremely unwilling to change their lifestyles (especially in Australia where we’re blessed to have such a great standard of living). At the end of the day, carbon capitalism is so engrained in our society, that the thought of having to make huge sacrifices from those who have the most, to help those who have the least, is really hard for people to come to terms with.
      Again, so glad you read this and that you’re passionate about an issue that affects us all 🙂

  2. Super piece Adelaide, I think its really important to turn a critical and questioning eye to anything presented to you. I watched the film last night and went in to it with your critique already framing it and I was pleasantly surprised that for the most part, I disagreed with you.

    Initially I guess I’d say that this film is aimed at a wider audience than those already engaged and informed about climate change. For me also none of the facts were new, these are problems we’ve seen time and again. In the movie it literally showed the classic icebergs crumbling footage from the 70’s so they obviously know that this isn’t groundbreaking information. What was unique about this film was the credibility lent to the climate change issue by the many well known and well regarded figures that Leo has access to. Hearing the genuine concern echoed by the Pope, Obama, and Ban Ki-moon is a solid step in shaking the outdated association of the environmentalist movement with hippies and lay abouts.

    Another feature of the film I really liked was that it succinctly brought all the issues into the one place and gave a good overview of the state we are in and some directions for action . You didn’t need to watch Chasing Ice and Cowspiracy and Racing Extinction to be brought up to date with most of the facts. Obviously if you watch all these movies you will get a lot more detail but most people aren’t going to take the time out so to clear up some concepts like the ‘tipping point’ and a carbon tax in layman’s terms is really important to get everybody on the same page so productive discussions can start happening.

    In regards to it being all about Leo I think that was a very deliberate decision and considering the intended audience fairly effective.It played into the classic ‘ethos pathos logos’ modes of persuasion to develop the credibility of the main character and establish a relatable protagonist. As a producer of multiple envrio docos I highly doubt that much of the content of the film was surprising to Leo, it just makes it more accessible.

    Obviously it is very US-centric, it wasn’t emphatically articulated just how far behind Aus/US are in renewables compared to China for example. I agree that the interview with Sunita Narain was stellar and ‘developed’ countries need to role up their sleeves and show some leadership on the problem we’ve created.

    Overall I think its a little dangerous to undermine a really positive film. Science communication is a huge part of the problem and this is an effective, if not especially innovative, attempt to speak to people with a moderate interest or fence sitters and bring everyone up to date with the issues and potential solutions. If it was up to me I would have made it a lot scarier because the future is looking pretty bleak but the more conversations and indignation that is sparked, the quicker we can change the rules of the game and potentially get all this craziness under control. Thanks for making me think!

    1. Hey Ella, thanks so much for reading my post. I’m really grateful to hear your thoughts and opinions because I find them very valuable so thanks for sharing.

      I completely agree with many of your points, especially how the film was quite succinct and brought together many ideas. And personally when the Pope shared his encyclical, I thought that it was a very profound moment in the history of leaders speaking up and spreading this message.

      I found your point about science communication really interesting as it’s not a perspective I considered. I understand how science communication needs to keep up and reach as many people as possible in the most effective type of way, and for this reason I can completely understand and appreciate this film and it’s message.

      I guess for me I was coming at it from more of a media/comms, IR perspective and I have strong criticisms of many other films that ‘trend’ that cover countless other topics.
      And I completely agree with your point about making the film scarier, because after hearing the same narrative for so long, not much action has been taken.

      Thanks so much again for sharing and it’s definitely added value to my interpretation of this film. I’m glad I could provoke some thought 🙂 x

    1. haha don’t get me wrong… I do like Leo – I’m just a bit critical of this particular film and the way it’s perceived by audiences. But if it makes people interested and care about Climate Change then I’m all for it.

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