New Scorsese Film Slammed ​For ​Using Chimpanzee ​ "Actor​"

One of the Christmas season mainstream film releases is the latest Martin Scorsese offering. The Wolf of Wall Street. Based on the biography of Wall Street rogue stockbroker, Jordan Belfort, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role. The movie serves up a heady cocktail of excessive behavior, such as massive drug use, money squandering, debauchery and ​keeping a rollerskating pet chimpanzee in the office.​ ​ ​​The Wolf of Wall Street ​ ​has ​received mixed review​s while the use of a live chimpanzee in a film has been met with dismay by animal rights activists, who accuse Scorsese of abusing Chance (the chimpanzee’s name) by forcing him to perform.

Leading a campaign to boycott the film is Friends of Animals, which on Tuesday​​ ​a​​t the New York premiere​ confronted the film’s star for not objecting to act alongside the great ape. ​FoA​ took DiCaprio to task because he heads a conservation organization, which makes his stance towards the chimpanzee all the more surprising considering the increasing cultural rejection of animal ​abuse​.

In an article about Hollywood’s track record in animal exploitation, FoA’s Edita Birnkrant outlines an expos​é​ of Chance’s life story and the cruel teaching methods of his circus animal trainer, Pam Rosaire. ​With so much information available, thi​s ​faux-pas by Scorcese and his team is totally out of line with current thought on great apes. A couple of years ago, the Institute of Medicine released a report, “Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity." It concluded ​that the use of chimpanzees for invasive biomedical research is unnecessary​. Since then, ​great apes​ in government ​custody​ are being retired ​and ​sent to Chimp Haven ​sanctuary in Louisiana, where they will live out their remaining years​. ​ ​

All of this makes the use of chimpanzee in The Wolf of Wall Street even more ​outrageous. ​Besides, it was a fictional addition to the real story on which it was based. “There was never a chimpanzee in the office," Porush said. "There were no animals in the office ... I would also never abuse an animal in any way." ​Perhaps Scorsese thought a chimpanzee in an office would add a touch of freaky eccentricity to his protagonist​. But what he did not think about is how much suffering the training of a great ape entails. ​ ​ ​

Chimpanzees used in entertainment are usually discarded once they get too old to control. Primarily Primates is one of the sanctuaries that houses rescued ​chimpanzees from​ their​ abusers. ​I​n 1986 they became home to Willie and Okko, who had been used in Project X, but were taken to the sanctuary after a lawsuit against the film’s producer’s alleged abuse and mistreatment of chimps by their trainers. The sanctuary says the chimpanzees, who ​are still alive, show signs of trauma​ to this day​. “Willie, star of the Project X film still runs away in fear when he sees cameras. Another chimp, exhibited neurotic behaviors like rocking and clutching,” said Brooke Chavez, assistant director of ​the sanctuary. ​

Animal welfare is a social responsibility issue, and it’s only going to get bigger, as more documentaries come out and a younger generation is being brought up to see non-humans in a more respectful ​and ethical ​light. In the face of these facts, their use in entertainment appears even more reprehensible, especially with the availability of digital tools such as CGI. There simply is no excuse.

Image credit: Primarily Primates