Joaquin Phoenix has been collecting awards for Joker all season long, and he’s expected to pick up an Oscar when the ceremony is held on February 9. As BBC News reports, Phoenix picked up the prize for best actor at the BAFTAs on Sunday, and he used his acceptance speech to make an impassioned plea about championing diversity.
First, Phoenix made it clear that he respected the BAFTAs and appreciated all the support the British Academy had given him in his career. Then, he said he was aware of the privileges he was afforded by his skin tone.
“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,” the actor said.
This year’s BAFTA Awards, which are something close to the British version of the Oscars, faced backlash after the nominations were announced. Critics alleged a total lack of diversity amongst acting award nominees, as CBS News reported. Like the Academy, the BAFTAs failed to nominate any women in the directing category.
During his speech, Pheonix made it clear that he was not exonerating himself. He said that he had not made enough effort to ensure that his sets were as diverse as they could have been.
“But I think that it’s more than just having sets that are multicultural, I think that we really have to do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism,” Phoenix said.
He continued by saying that he believed that those with privilege, himself included, should be the ones working to dismantle the racist systems that they’d benefited from. He also said that no one was looking for a handout or preferential treatment. Instead, he was asking his peers to broaden their view of what kind of work deserved recognition and acknowledgment.
The speech earned praise on social media after Phoenix gave it, positive reactions coming from actresses Kerry Washington and Viola Davis, as well as from The Farewell director Lulu Wang.
Given the number of awards Phoenix has already accumulated for his performance in Joker, it would be a stunning upset if he was not given the top prize at the Oscars. Phoenix gave an impassioned speech about climate change at the Golden Globes, said speech being available via YouTube, so it will be fascinating to see what he says — if given the chance — on Oscar night.