The Joker star won his first Academy Award on Sunday.
After four nominations across his 37-year career, Phoenix won his first Academy Award for his leading performance in Todd Phillips’ antihero saga at Sunday night’s ceremony, becoming the second actor (behind The Dark Knight’s Heath Ledger) to win an Oscar for playing the iconic DC Comics character.
During his acceptance speech, Phoenix spoke about using his “voice for the voiceless” before critiquing gender inequality, racism, homophobia, and animal exploitation by “one nation, one people, one race, one gender, or one species” that feels it has “the right to dominate” over minorities.
“I think that we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world,” he continued. “We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow, and when she gives birth, we steal her baby, even though her anguish is unmistakeable.”
He went on to call for “love and compassion” to “develop and implement systems of change to benefit all sentient beings” before lambasting his own past transgressions — some on the sets of various movies.
“I have been a scoundrel all my life,” he said. “I have been selfish, I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I’m grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance, and I think that’s when we’re at our best, when we support each other and help each other to grow.”
He concluded by quoting lyrics written by his late brother, River Phoenix, when he was 17: “Run to the rescue with love, and peace will follow.”
Phoenix, 45, beat out fellow Best Actor nominees Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory), Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes), Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), and Adam Driver (Marriage Story) after coasting through the precursor circuit with major pre-Oscar victories at the SAG Awards, the BAFTA Awards, the Critics Choice Awards, and the Venice International Film Festival.
Phoenix’s previous Oscar nominations were for 2000’s Gladiator, 2005’s Walk the Line, and 2012’s The Master. The actor received some of the best reviews of his career for playing the Joker, a role that earned Ledger a posthumous Academy Award in 2009.
Still, during an August 2019 press conference tied to the film’s world premiere in Venice, Phoenix maintained that “the attraction to make this film and this character was that we were going to approach it in our own way, so, for me, I didn’t refer to any past iterations of the character,” including those by Ledger and Suicide Squad’s Jared Leto. “It just felt like something that was our creation in some ways.”
Check out the full list of Oscar winners here.