When Joaquin Phoenix stood up to accept the BAFTAs for Best Actor for his performance in Joker on Sunday, he didn't smile. He got to the stage, and delivered a few rote remarks about how grateful he was to receive the honor—then launched into a powerful, somber speech about how Hollywood has shut out actors and filmmakers of color from awards season.
"I feel conflicted, because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don’t have that same privilege,” he said. “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."
Not a single person of color was nominated for an acting award at the BAFTAs this year, and only one actor of color received a nomination at the Oscars: Cynthia Erivo, for her performance in Harriet. She was also nominated at the Golden Globes, where, encouragingly, Awkwafina won a Best Performance award (comedy or musical) for her turn in The Farewell. But all of the Globes' nominations for Best Performance by an Actor in a drama went to white men.
“I don’t think anybody wants a handout or preferential treatment, although that’s what we give ourselves every year," Phoenix said on Sunday. "I think people just want to be acknowledged, 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 I work on are inclusive, but I think it’s more than just having sets that are multicultural."
“We have to do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism,” he continued. “I think 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."
Along with the BAFTAs, Phoenix has now won Best Actor at the Globes, the SAG Awards, and the Critics Choice Awards, making him the front-runner to win yet again at the Oscars. The outcome is still up in the air, but there's one thing we know for sure: Whoever wins will be a white man.
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