Joaquin Phoenix came for the BAFTA’s throats during his acceptance speech at this year’s ceremony, calling out systemic racism and the lack of diversity in nominations across the board.
After taking out the gong for Best Leading Actor for his titular role in Joker, Phoenix made a poignant and very self-aware speech that targeted the institution and award show that just commended him.
He began his speech by expressing his appreciation and privilege for his award and the support of the BAFTAs throughout his career, however, he felt “conflicted because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don’t have that same privilege.”
The words that he delivered next are nothing short of iconic.
I think that we send a very clear message to people of colour, that you’re not welcome here.
You could hear a pin drop.
Because despite the stellar performances from actors (and contributions of crew members) of all creeds, races, and ethnicities, the BAFTAs managed to only put a handful of non-white talents up for awards (and zero for acting nods). The list of nominations, released last month, sparked serious uproar for their lack of diversity, prompting the hashtag #BAFTAsSoWhite to trend on Twitter. There were fears that this year’s ceremony might be boycotted.
And Phoenix wasn’t about to let them (or, indeed, some of his fellow actors) get away without a little pie on their faces.
— BAFTA (@BAFTA) February 2, 2020
He continued by affirming that it’s not about getting “a handout or preferential treatment – although that’s what we give ourselves ever year” rather it’s about being “acknowledged and appreciated and respected for their work.”
Which is fair e-bloody-nough.
He even had the self-awareness to call himself out for being “part of the problem” and not doing enough to counter and dismantle systemic racism by working on inclusive sets, something he is ashamed of.
But I think that it’s more than just having sets that are multicultural, I think that we have to really 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 opprssion to be the ones that dismantle it, so that’s on us.
And, perhaps in the biggest F-U he could give to the BAFTAs, he walked away without his trophy.
An uncomfortable silence filled the hall for a long noticeable moment. Thank you Joaquin.
— Lulu Wang (@thumbelulu) February 2, 2020
The night’s host, Graham Norton and our own Rebel Wilson also took shots at the BAFTAs lack of diversity.
Norton called it “the year when white men finally broke through” and referred to Phoenix’s film Joker as “the story of a white man who makes himself even whiter.”
And Rebel Wilson, presenting the Best Director, dryly quipped that she couldn’t do what the “exceptional, daring talent nominated in this category” do.
I don’t think I could do what they do. Honesty. I just don’t have the balls.
Why Joaquin Calling Out The BS Is So Important.
The British organisation – and Tinseltown award shows generally – has copped flack before for the lack of diversity in its nominations. Whether it’s an all-white cast of Best Actors (Leading, Supporting, or Ensemble-ing), or a lineup of males for Best Directors (I’m still bitter about Greta Gerwig’s snub); it’s a perennial thing.
And in response to the #BAFTAsSoWhite drama, the organisation decided to mail its members to express their frustration over the lack of diversity at their own award show (?), promising to review its voting procedures for future ceremonies.
Lol, ok. We’ll see what happens next year.
Phoenix has been commended by many for his speech
He did several things here: acknowledged the issue; called the responsible people out (including himself); acknowledged that he needs to do more; recognized that these awards don’t appreciate POC (actors/their work) to the same extent that they appreciate white actors. Bravo!
— Lady T (@Theresa_A_Todd) February 2, 2020
The people’s champ
— Abdullah Afzal (@Abdullah_Azfal) February 2, 2020
I totally had this dude all wrong. I just assumed he was an arrogant actor who didn’t care about things like this, I was seriously wrong. He didn’t have to address any of this, and wouldn’t have been blamed if he didn’t. But he did and I respect that tremendously, well said. 👏🏻
— Adam (@scorpiusjones) February 2, 2020
Correct me if I’m wrong but this is the first time… In a long time… I see a white man uses the stage he’s given to say what we all need to hear.
We mostly hear women speak up and this is encouraging and will help our work. Thank you Joaquin. https://t.co/tuDA5iDtna
— Alma Har’el🌪 (@Almaharel) February 3, 2020
But with praise, comes the criticism that the speech was more performative than genuine. I disagree.
Because it takes someone like Joaquin Phoenix – a successful and respected, white, male in his field (just like Graham Norton did) – to stand up and call out the bullshit without sugar-coating it, or making it funny to slap some real sense into people.
There are only so many times you can joke about how bad a situation is before the laughter gets too loud, and then we can hear nothing – no pleas for help, no constructive discussion, no hope for progress.
A gentle wake-up call doesn’t always work. Sometimes you’ve got to shake them awake to get their full attention.
Image Source: Twitter (etalk @etalkCTV)