On Feb. 2 2020, Joaquin Phoenix won Leading Actor at the British Academy of Film and Television Acts. The four-time Oscar-nominated actor is best known for his roles in The Gladiator, Walk the Line and most recently, The Joker. This last critically acclaimed film tells the tale of how Arthur Fleck’s unmediated mental illness changed him into the character now known as the Joker, damaging both himself and all those around him. Although the movie was generally well-received, many viewers were concerned that it would cause a rapid increase in violent behavior. For this very reason, the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado that experienced multiple murders a mass shooting after a showing of The Dark Knight Rises chose not to screen this film.
None of the BAFTA nominees for the 2020 Awards were actors or actresses of color. Additionally, the line-up for the 2020 Oscars Awards features nominees who are all predominantly Caucasian or white-passing. Although many viewers were enraged by the white-dominated lineup, none were perhaps as perturbed as Joaquin Phoenix. Although he started off his acceptance speech by sharing how grateful he was to receive the award, he dedicated the remainder of his acceptance to the topic of systemic racism. In America, systemic racism is comprised of all the policies and institutions that have been used to oppress people of color within this society. These tactics have not disappeared but have continued to infiltrate the United States as a whole
In Phoenix’s eyes, the constant refusal to consistently nominate actors of color into award shows like these can “send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here.” At the end of his speech, Phoenix even forgot his award on the podium and had to return to retrieve it. Some have interpreted this action to be a live representation of his distaste for having received the award at all. However, his speech was very well received by the audience, which even included Prince William, who also spoke of the incredible need to diversify the film industry and its nominations.
Joaquin Phoenix is rather private about his personal life, choosing not to do very many interviews or to partake in the world of social media. However, this was not his first public venture into politics. Last month, he and Jane Fonda were arrested after protesting against the detrimental effects of climate change. He is extremely passionate about this issue, even going so far as to promise to wear the same Stella McCartney suit to any upcoming award shows so that he can reduce the waste that he contributes to the planet.
Many actors have been known to use their acceptance award speeches as a way to educate their audience on topics that they are passionate about. By bravely speaking his mind, Joaquin Phoenix continued the conversation about privilege and race within award ceremonies that was started by April Reign about the 2015 Oscar Awards. He did not shy away from these difficult topics but instead chose to actively fight for the rights of people of color who were not awarded with the platforms or accolades that they rightfully deserved.