Joaquin Phoenix won yet another Best Actor award this past weekend, this time from the BAFTAs, but he took his moment in the spotlight to talk about the elephant in the room: the industry’s lack of diversity. The BAFTAs came under fire this year when their nominations were announced and the acting categories were made up entirely of white faces. This was embarrassing enough, but the fact that they nominated Margot Robbie twice in the same category when Zhao Shuzen (The Farewell), Chang Hyae-jin (Parasite), and many others were right there was, uh, striking.
The onus isn’t entirely on awards bodies to increase diversity—it of course depends on what kinds of films are getting made, and the quality of roles that are being written for women and people of color. But the “BAFTAs So White” this year in particular was noteworthy because there were great performances by people of color to choose from, and their voting body simply ignored them.
So Phoenix, who has been using his many, many opportunities to speak at these kinds of ceremonies wisely, took aim squarely at the BAFTAs in his acceptance speech, noting that they “send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here.” He added that nobody is looking for “a handout or preferential treatment,” they just want the same opportunity to be acknowledged and appreciated that others get year after year.
Wisely, Phoenix made a point to call himself out as well for being part of the problem, and said 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,” putting the onus directly on the white people in power to enact change.
A silence reportedly hushed over the room during and after Phoenix’s speech, likely because, as the wise Lizzo once said, the truth hurts.
Watch Phoenix’s full speech below, followed by a transcribed copy of what he said. It should be interesting to see how Phoenix uses his time on Sunday when he almost certainly accepts the Best Actor Oscar.
“The BAFTAs have always 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. I think that people just want to be acknowledged and 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 that I work on are inclusive. But I think it’s more than just having sets that are multi-cultural. I think we have to do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism. 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.”