Joaquin Phoenix scored yet another major award for his performance in Joker on Sunday, winning the BAFTA Leading Actor prize. In a powerful speech, he lambasted the lack of diversty in the 2020 BAFTA nominations, as all of the nominees in the four main acting categories are white.
He began his speech by saying that although he was honored by the awards show’s continued recognition of his career, not all actors had that same privilege.
“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,” Phoenix said. “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.”
He continued, saying “I don’t think anybody wants a hand out or preferential treatment, although that’s what we give ourselves every year. I think people just want to be appreciated and respected for their work.”
While he was criticizing the industry as a whole, Phoenix acknowledged he hasn’t done enough either to foster diversity in Hollywood.
“This is not a self-righteous condemnation, because I’m ashamed that I’m part of the problem. I’ve not done everything in my power to ensure that the sets I work on are inclusive,” he said.
Phoenix ended his speech by saying those benefiting the most from white privilege should be the ones to address racism in the industry.
“It’s more than having sets that are multi-cultural, I think that we have to really do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism,” he concluded. “I think that 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.”
His speech garnered cheers from the audience, which stayed mostly silent as Phoenix spoke. He even walked away on stage after speaking, leaving his trophy on the podium.
Critics have previously called out the lack of diversity in the BAFTA nominations, despite there being numerous actors of color who delivered acclaimed performances in 2019. The hashtag #BAFTASoWhite spread around Twitter in response to the snubbing of actors including Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers), Lupita Nyong’o (Us), Cynthia Erivo (Harriet), and Awkwafina (The Farewell).
In a statement provided to EW when the nominations were announced in early January, BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry called the nominations “hugely disappointing,” as she pointed out the group’s “year round activity has many strands that focus on diversity.”
“It’s clear there is much more to be done and we plan to double down on our efforts to affect real change and to continue to support,” she continued, “and encourage the industry on the urgency of doing so much more.”’
Social media is already praising Phoenix’s speech. Director Lulu Wang, who helmed the critically beloved The Farewell, expressed her gratitude for Phoenix and noted how those in the room reacted to his speech. She was also not nominated at the BAFTAs.
“An uncomfortable silence filled the hall for a long noticeable moment. Thank you Joaquin,” she said.
Rotten Tomatoes editor Jacqueline Coley tweeted, “the best part was him admitting that he was part of the problem and saying he (and all of them) had to do better.”
The Black List founder Franklin Leonard wrote, “Seriously though, the full Joaquin Phoenix speech is… it’s… well it’s rather extraordinary. Bravo, sir.”
Phoenix has won numerous awards for his performance; in addition to the BAFTA, he has also taken home the a Golden Globe, a SAG, and Critics’ Choice Movie Award for playing disgruntled comic Arthur Fleck. The film itself has earned both praise and criticism, with some critics slamming its violent themes and normalization of white male rage.
The film was nominated in 11 BAFTA categories, taking home three awards, including Best Original Score for Hildur Guðnadóttir.