Leonardo DiCaprio’s Role in The Revenant was Originally Written as a Black Character

As of late, there has been a call to boycott the Oscars due to an #OscarsSoWhite trend that is claiming the Academy as ‘whitewashed’. There’s been a lot of back and forth with big names in the industry; Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee called for people to boycott the ceremony, adding that they wouldn’t attend, while actresses like Janet Hubert have criticized her for the move.

Why all the noise? Well, because The Oscars have nominated primarily white crowds for their awards, and not just one time. Predictably, arguments have risen over the height of the claims. I, for one, do not believe the problem is with the Oscars, and I don’t believe the members of the Academy are racist, but instead believe the problem resides elsewhere. First of all, as pointed out by my good friend and fellow contributor, Radcliff Weir, the president of the Academy, Cheryl Boone, is African American and has been going to great lengths to issue diversity throughout the Academy and film industry. Perhaps those with similar opinions to Pinkett Smith are simply unaware of such a fact. Aside from that, the nominees and films are very much deserving and I would find it difficult to replace them with others. I could see an argument for Idris Elba and Benicio Del Toro being snubbed a nomination, though there are snubs every year and their performances were inferior to DiCaprio’s and Ruffalo’s, respectively (at least, in my opinion). But, admittedly, it is hard to ignore the fact that almost every nominee is white.

I, of course, am white, so maybe my opinion doesn’t hold merit in this situation. Even still, I think the much bigger problem is with the diversity of roles in Hollywood, rather than the Academy. When the big studio executives and the producers discuss the projects they have invested into, there seems to be very little effort to change the predominantly white environment of the industry. When a new superhero flick is on the horizon, it’s almost expected that the lead will be a white male, because why wouldn’t it be? But I ask, why can’t it be an Asian man or an Indian, or a black man? Or a Latino woman? I’m sure the possibility sits somewhere in their minds, but for some reason, they go straight to the typical white leading-man. Streaming services such as Netflix have at least given great opportunities to those of color – Narcos, Jessica Jones, Orange is the New Black, the upcoming Luke Cage series and more are just a few examples. Too few of these examples can be found on network television and in hit blockbuster movies. Instead, every single project should be looked at with a wide eye for diversity. Every role should be considered for multiple genders and races. Going to the origins of each project, writers can do their part and write scripts full of many faces and types of people.

With much of this said, I was reading the script for The Revenant the other day and noticed something rather surprising. I’m not sure which draft of the script it was, but I think there is still something to be discussed:

Hugh Glass, the role played by Leonardo DiCaprio, was originally written as an African American character.

If you don’t believe me, follow this link to the script below:


Amid all of the noise in Hollywood as discussed above, I was incredibly intrigued that this character, who was white in real life and in the book based on the events, was specifically written as an African American man, by the writer Mark L. Smith.

Keep in mind, we can’t be sure if Alejandro G. Inarritu saw the draft in which Glass is written as a black man, because for all we know, this could be one of the early versions. Still, though, it means that someone did in fact see it and chose to instead cast it as a white man. I have to wonder if black actors were even auditioned for the role, or if the character was changed outright in the script. DiCaprio was obviously fantastic in the movie and is favored to win the Oscar for Best Actor, but imagine if a black man had been given the platform to act in this demanding role, being directed by one of Hollywood’s most sought after and talented working directors, surely leading to some Oscar attention. We would likely be witnessing far different activity in the midst of Hollywood and the Academy. While DiCaprio was fantastic and is an incredible actor, I can’t help but wonder what it would’ve looked like with a black man in the lead role – or rather, what DiCaprio may think of the situation.

I think that my discovery only adds to the argument that the diversity problem lies with the distribution of roles in Hollywood, tying directly to the studio executives, producers and those involved with casting for a project. As I said, writers should make their pieces reflect the real world, with every type of person…but what if the higher-ups are blatantly ignoring what’s written, only to further the problem of diversity in Hollywood? Imagine the many roles that have been filled without diversity, robbing us of potential, simply due to the big wigs playing it safe.

I ask that you share this article to open the eyes of people and to start a wide discussion of the industry’s issues. If I can catch enough attention with this article, I’ll try my best to reach out to Alejandro G. Inarritu, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark L. Smith, to hear their thoughts.

Perhaps none of them knew of the changes. Or worse, perhaps they did know and continued with the project anyways.

What do you think of the current state of diversity in Hollywood? And what is your reaction to Hugh Glass (DiCaprio’s character) being written as an African American man? Let’s start a discussion in the comments below.

Author: Austin Adams, @IamAustinAdams

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