Hot on the heels of the success of The Revenant, right now is definitely Leonardo DiCaprio's time to shine. And with the Academy Awards just around the corner, speculation is going through the roof on whether the 41-year-old will finally scoop up a prestigious accolade for his contribution to the film industry.
Indeed, since his first foray into the entertainment world back in his late teens, Leo's come a long way and has established himself firmly as one of the most successful actors of his generation. And this is why this particular blast from the past is turning out to be his worst nightmare.
Back in 1996, Leo starred in a low-budget, improvised film called Don's Plum alongside some of his best friends — Tobey Maguire, Kevin Connolly, and Jenny Lewis. According to IMDB, the movie's plot surrounds:
A group of Los Angeles teenagers [who] meet every week at their local diner to discuss their latest misadventures in their miserable lives.
Here's an clip from the feature:
So, why have we never even heard of the movie until now? How is it that footage from the beginning of such a prolific Hollywood star's career is never talked about? Well... that's because Leo never actually wanted us to see it.
Apparently, even before their careers kicked off, both DiCaprio and Maguire were concerned that the black-and-white feature was "not for public consumption" and might damage their reputations. So their response was to block it from coming out in the USA and Canada altogether, citing that they regarded Don's Plum to be a sort of improvisational workshop rather than a fully-fledged feature. They also said that they thought the project would only be screened at independent film festivals in the first place.
"You and Tobey Maguire spat in the face of independent film"
Fast forward two decades and the film's producer, Dale Wheatley, has said he refuses to be silenced any longer. He recently posted the entire film on a website with a heavy worded letter addressed to Leo. Here's an excerpt of what he had to say:
I’m writing you this open letter because I want nothing lost in translation. I’m going to set the record straight, and an open letter is the closest I could come to saying it face to face. [...] This letter is about so much more than just a movie. It’s about bullying, censorship, and abuse of power. You and Tobey Maguire spat in the face of independent film and the community that helped get you where you are today. You are not bigger than art, Leo. You are not bigger than the films in which you act.
He also denied that the film's producers ever misled their actors:
I hope it’s becoming clear to you that it is absolute nonsense to characterize us as a bunch of evil film-makers who fiendishly tried to turn a short piece of art into a longer piece of art. The film certainly evolved and we all evolved along with it.
The above is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the severity of the allegations. Head on over to the website, aptly named Free Don's Plum, to read the full account.
The removal of 'Don's Plum' online
Sadly, despite all of Wheatley's efforts, only a few days after the feature was posted online, Leo's lawyers were on it once again. The producer reveals that he received the following removal notice from Vimeo just yesterday:
We have removed your video titled Don’s Plum, previously available at Vimeo, in a response to a takedown notice submitted by Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (‘DMCA’).
And in response, he issued the following statement:
It breaks my heart to inform you that Leonardo DiCaprio has once again blocked only American and Canadian audiences from enjoying Don’s Plum. It’s a sad commentary that in 2016 we witness the suppression of film and art by one of America’s most beloved actors. If only Leonardo DiCaprio would follow in the footsteps of the director who he admires and works with more than any other, Martin Scorsese, and preserve American cinema rather than suppress it. I will appeal Vimeo’s decision to overlook my fair use copyright as an author of the material.
Ultimately, considering Leo and Tobey successfully kept Don's Plum from the public eye for 20 years, who knows when it will finally see the light of day. Any bad blood in the industry is unpleasant, so let's just hope that this mess is resolved sooner rather than later.
And for Leo's sake, that the Don's Plum censorship controversy doesn't cast a shadow over his chances of winning an Oscar for The Revenant — or anyone else's career anymore, for that matter.