Joaquin Phoenix commanded moviegoers with his mesmerizing take on the Joker but the actor took things to the next level when he called out himself and his peers for the systemic racism in the entertainment industry.
During the BAFTA award ceremony Sunday (Feb. 2), the actor used his acceptance speech for Best Actor (Joker) to address the elephant in the room. Just one month before, the BAFTAs found themselves in controversy after female filmmakers weren’t included in the Best Director slot nor actors of color in the rest. Harriet actress Cynthia Ervio (who is nominated for an Oscar) was shut out of the nominations but was asked to perform. The subject was hard to ignore which only made it right for Phoenix to address it during the biggest moment of the show.
“I feel conflicted because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don’t have that same privilege. I think we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here,” Phoenix said. “I don’t think anybody wants a handout or preferential treatment, people just want to be acknowledged, appreciated and respected for their work. This is not a self-righteous condemnation. I’m part of the problem.”
As the show went on, actresses like Kerry Washington and Viola Davis (who took home a BAFTA for her role in Fences) applauded the actor for using his platform in a thoughtful way. He also received praise from D.L. Hughley, Yvette Nicole Brown and The Farewell director Lulu Wang.
An uncomfortable silence filled the hall for a long noticeable moment. Thank you Joaquin.
— Lulu Wang (@thumbelulu) February 2, 2020
— Viola Davis (@violadavis) February 3, 2020
— kerry washington (@kerrywashington) February 3, 2020
The Hollywood Reporter noted that prior to the awards, director Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave, Widows) called out the BAFTA voting system, warning that eventually, they would have “no credibility at all” if things remain the same.
You can watch his speech below.
“I feel very honored and privileged to be here tonight. The Baftas have already been very supportive of my career and I’m deeply appreciative.
But I have to say that I also 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’re sending to people that have contributed so much to our medium and our industry and in ways that we benefit from.
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 that I’m part of the problem. I have not done everything in my power to ensure that the sets I was on are inclusive. But I think it’s more than just having sets that are multi-cultural. We have to do really 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.