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Joaquin Phoenix Calls Out Systemic Racism in BAFTA Acceptance Speech

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02: Joaquin Phoenix attends the EE British Academy Film Awards 2020 After Party at The Grosvenor House Hotel on February 02, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

(Image: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

We may not be big fans of Joker, but we’re certainly enjoying actor Joaquin Phoenix using his cavalcade of awards acceptance speeches to call out Hollywood and the industry for their failings. He spoke out about climate change at the Golden Globes, urging his colleagues to forgo private jets and minimize their carbon footprints. Phoenix is walking the carbon-neutral walk this awards cycle by earing the same tux to every show, just switching out ties.

But he made probably the most pointed and important statement yesterday as he accepted the award for best actor … and called out the BAFTA’s blinding whiteness.

Phoenix began by saying he was indeed appreciative and honored by the privilege of accepting the award and being nominated, though he seemed to be uncomfortable at the time.

But he went on to directly call out his own privilege and the exclusionary nature of the BAFTAs, which failed to nominate any actors of color. “I think we send a very clear message to people of color that ‘you’re not welcome here,” Phoenix said as the camera panned to a sea of dour, white faces. This is the message, Phoenix explained, sent to people who contribute to the industry and whose work white performers and creators still benefit from.

“I don’t think anyone wants a handout or preferential treatment, although that’s what we give ourselves every year,” Phoenix went on, brutally honest and acknowledging his own complicity in the issue. “This is not a self-righteous condemnation,” Phoenix added, “because I’m ashamed to say I’m part of the problem.”

Phoenix was clear that he himself needed to do more to make sets inclusive and multicultural. “We have to do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism. I think that is the obligation of the people who have created and benefit from the system of oppression to be the ones to dismantle it. So that’s on us.”

That’s it, Joaquin. That is 100% it. It takes more than a speech to dismantle these systems, but the work starts with acknowledgment and accountability, and no matter what we feel about the film Phoenix won for, it’s inspiring and heartening to see him use the platform that film has given to make important essential statements. We hope people listen.

Phoenix is all-but-assured to take home an Oscar next Sunday, and it will be interesting to see if his speech there strikes a similar tone or if he’ll be more focused on the art. Phoenix has spoken about racism and climate change, but not about the shut-out of female directors. Phoenix himself doesn’t work with female directors very often, which is another symptom of Hollywood’s failure when it comes to supporting women behind the scenes, and that’s something I truly hope will be addressed by someone at the Oscars.

But for now, bravo to Phoenix for saying what needed to be said.

(via: Twitter)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.