Joaquin Phoenix at BAFTAs: ‘We Have to Do the Hard Work’ to Dismantle Racism

Joaquin Phoenix
James Veysey/BAFTA/Shutterstock

Joaquin Phoenix called on his peers to help dismantle racism in the film industry during a rallying acceptance speech for his best actor award at the 2020 BAFTAs.

During a ceremony that was short on controversy, the “Joker” star was the only industry figure to discuss the ongoing issue in the film business, claiming that the business sends “a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here.”

“I 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,” he said onstage as he picked up his best actor award.

“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.”

He continued: “I don’t think anybody wants a handout or preferential treatment, although that’s what we give ourselves every year. 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,” he concluded.

“We have to do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism. 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.”

His speech was one of few that discussed the issues of inequality within the film industry, and comes after the BAFTAs were criticized for nominating all-white acting categories.

Scarlett Johansson and Margot Robbie both received two acting nominations each.

EE Rising Star winner Micheal Ward, a black British actor, also touched upon the changes that need to take place.

The “Blue Story” star, who almost broke down in tears on stage accepting his award, told press backstage that the stories of people of color “are important but a lot of people don’t know [them].”

When asked specifically about diversity in the organization he added, “We are going in the right direction.

“I feel a lot of people don’t realize there are opportunities. That’s what I want to show, show there are opportunities.

“It’s not like it was before. When they see it, they will get into stuff like this and get nominated.”

Bong Joon-Ho, who picked up best original screenplay and best film not in the English language for “Parasite,” told press after his win that “from the various efforts we have been putting in, naturally we will arrive at a day where we have diversity in this industry, for gender, sexuality or people of color.”

Prince William also weighed in on the issue, suggesting that it was “not right in this day and age” that we must keep discussing diversity and equality.

“We find ourselves talking again about the need to do more to address diversity in the sector,” he said on stage.

“That cannot be right in this day and age. I know Pippa [Harris] and Amanda [Berry] share that frustration. BAFTA takes this issue seriously, and following this year’s nominations have launched a full review… to ensure the opportunities are available to everyone.”

A moment of levity came from Rebel Wilson, presenting best director, who riffed on the ongoing royal scandals, Coronavirus, and the box office failure of “Cats.” She then segued to the directing nominees by praising their work and joking: “A look at the exceptional, daring talent nominated in this category. I don’t think I could do what they do.

“Honestly. I just don’t have the balls.”

The ceremony saw Phoenix, Renee Zellweger, Brad Pitt and Laura Dern take home the main acting awards.

Sam Mendes’ “1917” scooped seven BAFTAs, while “Joker” took three and “Parasite” two. “The Irishman” went home empty-handed.