After “Joker” star Joaquin Phoenix took Hollywood to task at the BAFTA Awards over the lack of diversity in this year’s awards season nominees, urging his counterparts to “do the hard work” to dismantle racism, many in the industry immediately took notice, and Cynthia Erivo is no exception.
Erivo is nominated in the lead actress and original song categories at Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony, the only black nominee in the Academy’s acting categories. Last month, the “Harriet” star opened up to Variety about the 2020 BAFTA Awards yielding all-white acting nominees, saying “it’s time for change” and explaining why she turned down the organization’s invitation to perform her song “Stand Up” at the ceremony.
And at Alfre Woodard’s 11th annual Sistahs Soiree hosted at the private residence of Jonas Tahlin, CEO of Absolute Elyx, on Wednesday night, Erivo elaborated on what Phoenix’s onstage comments meant to her personally.
“It meant that someone like him was listening and seeing what is going on and has gotten to the point where he can pretend it’s not happening anymore,” she told Variety.
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“And to say it in a place that at that time, he was really brave and it meant a lot to me, as a Brit, to hear him say it. I hope we didn’t fall on deaf ears. We never know,” she continued. “But I think it was time for someone like him to say it, because people like me, the black girls of the world, the black men of the world, are saying it consistently, but we’re not always being heard. So maybe it might have taken that to change something.”
On Monday, the double-Oscar nominee posted the “Joker” star’s speech to her Instagram, captioning the video: “Joaquin Phoenix giving a word on institutional racism. Much respect.”
Woodard — who garnered an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her critically-acclaimed performance in Chinonye Chukwu’s “Clemency” — agreed, adding, “I’m glad he did it. I’m glad he said it. And just like he said, ‘We can’t look to the people of color to do it. It’s about us.’ He made a speech that was about him and to his folks. They probably don’t want to hear it; a few in the audience might want to hear it because they think ‘not me,’ so they’re feeling self-righteous about it.”
“But it’s always important to speak the truth just so the history can record that it was spoken in a moment,” Woodard explained. “Otherwise, if you don’t say it — [people of color] say it to each other in dens or bars or dinner parties or whatever — but they don’t know that’s how we all talk all the time. So, for the ones that get impatient like ‘Ugh, they’re making a speech at an award show,’ it’s like ‘Yeah [they are],’ because it’s important to know in the time of creeping fascism in America, that there were people speaking up.”
In the meantime, Woodard is leading the charge for change her own way through her annual celebration, an intimate gathering designed to promote community among black women in the entertainment industry. Woodard and a group of nearly 30 working black actresses honored “No Time to Die’s” Lashana Lynch, “Waves” star Taylor Russell and Erivo for their breakout year.
“It means the world to be honest,” Erivo gushed. “I’ve been coming [to the event] for the last two, three years and just to sit in a room full of women who look like me and have been in the same industry and supporting each other and looking after each other is very, very special. … It blows my mind. There are people that are in this room who I have looked up to since I was a little girl and I get to share space with them.”