In news that is sure to make fervent supporters of the movie Joker cringe or roll their eyes, Joaquin Phoenix called out “systemic racism” when accepting “Best Actor” for Arthur Fleck at the British Academy Film Awards.
Phoenix said he felt “conflicted” other talented actors of color “don’t have” the “same privilege” and that he is “part of the problem.”
Phoenix stated at BAFTA, “I feel very honored and privileged to be here tonight. BAFTA’s have always been supportive of my career and I’m deeply appreciative.”
He continued, “But I have to say I feel conflicted because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don’t have that same privilege. I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here. I think that’s the message that we are sending to people that have contributed so much to our medium and our industry, and in ways that we benefit from.”
He added, “I don’t think anybody wants a handout or preferential treatment, although that’s what we give ourselves every year. People just want to be acknowledged, appreciated and respected for their work. This is not a self-righteous condemnation because I’m ashamed to say I’m part of the problem. I have not done everything in my power to ensure the sets I work on are inclusive.”
Phoenix concluded his speech saying, “But I think it’s more than just having sets that are multicultural. I think that we we have to really do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism. I think it is the obligation of the people that have created and perpetuate and benefit from a system of oppression to be the ones that dismantle it. So that’s on us.”
Chinese-American director Lulu Wang – whose film The Farewell was nominated for Best Foreign Film – said the room went silent and she thanked Phoenix for his words:
“An uncomfortable silence filled the hall for a long noticeable moment. Thank you Joaquin.”
An uncomfortable silence filled the hall for a long noticeable moment. Thank you Joaquin.
— Lulu Wang (@thumbelulu) February 2, 2020
But as you can tell from the video above, after he ended his speech the room erupted in cheering. There was no moment of silence.
Ricky Gervais sarcastically mocked Phoenix, tweeting this:
Very proud of all these actors calling out the lack of diversity at award shows. I bet if they’d have known the nominations in advance they wouldn’t have even turned up in the hope of winning themselves.
— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) February 3, 2020
Phoenix did this at the Golden Globes too, peppering his acceptance speech with mantras about equality, the environment, and change. “We all know there is no f****** best actor,” he said, among other things.
In addition, he stated:
“But, I think, together hopefully we can be unified and actually make some changes. It’s great to vote, but sometimes we have to take that responsibility on ourselves and make changes and sacrifices in our own lives, and I hope that we can do that.”
The BAFTA Awards felt backlash this year, similar to the “Oscars So White” campaign, for a perceived lack of diversity. A mimetic hashtag, #BaftasSoWhite, even trended on social media.
Prince William addressed the situation during the ceremony and threw his support behind diversity and inclusion:
“We find ourselves talking again about the need to do more to address diversity in the sector. That cannot be right in this day and age…BAFTA take this issue seriously, and following this year’s nominations have launched a full review… to ensure the opportunities are available to everyone.”
Phoenix won Best Actor over Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Adam Driver (Marriage Story), Taron Egerton (Rocketman) and Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes).