"The Wolf of Wall Street" star Leonardo DiCaprio may have been singing Martin Scorsese's praises when accepting the Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy or musical Sunday. But others are condemning the film – a debaucherous tale about real-life boiler room stockbroker Jordan Belfort – with groups that advocate on behalf of people with disabilities slamming its treatment of such subject matter Monday.
"'The Wolf of Wall Street' is getting a lot of attention for how it offends audiences on many levels, but one aspect that hasn't been discussed is its use of the R-word and its unacceptable mockery of people with cerebral palsy. Hollywood just doesn't seem to get it," said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, a group that serves people with disabilities, in a joint statement with the president and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy, Stephen Bennett.
"Among moviegoers who have paid to see 'The Wolf of Wall Street' in recent weeks are people with disabilities, their parents, siblings, and friends. It's time for Hollywood to wake up and see that their customers deserve better," Berns also said.
The film's prolific use of the R-word in a derogatory manner comes alongside 569 variations of "f--k" and myriad other instances of obscene language. There's also a scene in which Belfort (played by DiCaprio) compares his behavior after an overdose of Quaaludes to having cerebral palsy.
"While we understand that the film's content is deliberately distasteful and excessive, it does not excuse it. It is astonishing that the film's producers, director and actors deemed this kind of language and portrayal to be acceptable – they can do better, and we urge them to," Bennett said.
The film's treatment of disabilities is just one of many aspects of "The Wolf of Wall Street" that has spurred intense reaction. Much of the debate has revolved around whether it glorifies Belfort's bad behavior, particularly after an open letter to the filmmakers by the daughter of one of Belfort's colleagues. It also has been suggested that the film is homophobic and misogynistic.
Defenders of the film insist that it is not condoning such views, but rather critiquing and satirizing them.
"The book was a cautionary tale and if you sit through the end of the film, you'll realize what we're saying about these people and this world, because it's an intoxicating one," DiCaprio has said.
When asked by Gold Derby editor Tom O'Neil about the controversies surrounding the film in a video chat posted last weekend, Scorsese said, "I find that it's disappointing at times. It's frustrating, but on the other hand the film seems to be about something that people can talk about – some may disagree, some do disagree, some do not, and this is an open dialogue."
He added, "I try to show it as profanely, and as in a sense [with] a touch of obscenity, in the same way these people feel about other people – the contempt that they feel about other people in terms of money."
So far, the fuss appears to be helping the three-hour, R-rated film at the box office. After a lackluster Christmas holiday opening, it was able to hold strong in its second week and has brought in nearly $80 million domestically, according to Box Office Mojo estimations.
Industry watchers next will be looking to whether the backlash helps or hurts the film's Oscar chances, as nominations for the Academy Awards will be announced Thursday.