Leonardo DiCaprio’s South African Accent In ‘Blood Diamond’ Was So Bad Trevor Noah Said He Sounded Like a ‘Drunk Australian’
Many of the conversations surrounding the film Blood Diamond have been fraught. The film centers a particularly violent conflict that many outside of Sierra Leone are unfamiliar with, it posits a narrative described as centering a white savior, and it has been argued that it whitewashes the violent racism of Rhodesian settlers. At the same time, it’s also been criticized for much less heavy reasons. Leonardo DiCaprio played the lead character, Danny Archer, and as such he had to act with a South African accent.
‘Blood Diamond’ discusses the dark underbelly of the gemstone industry
The 2006 film Blood Diamond takes place in Sierra Leone amidst the civil war of 1991-2002. During this time, anti-government rebel factions frequently enslaved civilians and committed other atrocities in an effort to overthrow the government.
Many groups participate in illegal mining of diamonds to fund their operation, a real occurrence that still happens today. In the film, a civilian named Solomon Vandy, played by Djimon Hounsou, is kidnapped by one of these rebel groups and forced to work in one of these mines. He finds a massive diamond and buries it shortly before being arrested.
In prison, he meets DiCaprio’s character, who is an ex-Rhodesian mercenary and veteran of the South African border war, who is now involved in diamond smuggling himself.
Throughout the film, Archer and Vandy end up working together: Archer will help Vandy rescue his family from warlords if Vandy gives Archer the diamond. It also ends with Vandy at the Kimberley Accords in South Africa, presenting on the problem of conflict minerals and his harrowing experiences in Sierra Leone.
The film received significant criticism
Blood Diamond received mixed reviews. Though the actors were praised for their performances, many found the plot uninspiring and too Hollywood for such a serious issue.
It did bring attention to the issue of conflict minerals, but some felt that the social message fell flat. Additionally, the fact that this film, ostensibly about problems facing Africans, centered white characters: one, a white journalist who blows the whistle on an illegal diamond company, and the other, one who had fought for two separate white supremacist settler-colonial regimes: Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa.
These two characters end up saving the Sierra Leonean character and his family from Black rebel soldiers, leaving questions about African agency in the film.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s accent was not up to snuff
DiCaprio is American, though he played a Rhodesian in Blood Diamond. Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, was a country that declared independence from the United Kingdom amidst the decolonization of many African nations, sparked by fear that the Black population would assert their right to self-representation.
The white minority refused to allow meaningful Black political participation until 1979 when Black franchise finally became legal, and the country became Zimbabwe.
The accent is a tricky one. According to Insider, the trouble came when DiCaprio ended up fusing multiple different African accent features into something altogether unrecognizable.
Trevor Noah, who is South African, described it as “drunk Australian,” and joked that efforts to source diamonds ethically would never “erase the horror of Leo DiCaprio’s accent in Blood Diamond.”
Maybe future roles for DiCaprio will feature more thorough accent work!