Joaquin Phoenix delivered a powerful speech about race and inclusion Sunday at the British Academy Film Awards.
The Joker star called out the BAFTAs for “systemic racism” after picking up the leading actor prize. While Phoenix said he felt “honored and privileged,” he told the audience he had mixed feelings about the award.
“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,” Phoenix said. “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.”
— BAFTA (@BAFTA) February 2, 2020
Clearly uncomfortable, the audience sat in stunned silence as he continued to speak.
“I don’t think anybody wants a handout or preferential treatment, although that’s what we give ourselves every year,” Phoenix added. “I think that people want to be acknowledged, and be appreciated, and respected for their work.”
The actor also admitted he is “part of the problem.”
“This is not a self-righteous condemnation because I’m ashamed to say I’m part of the problem,” he said. “I have not done everything in my power to ensure the sets I work on are inclusive.”
Phoenix is the front runner to take home the best actor Oscar next weekend after winning the BAFTA, SAG Award, and Golden Globe for his role in Joker. In his speech Sunday, he urged those in the film industry to embrace change.
“We have to really do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism. It is the obligation of the people who have created and benefited from the system of oppression to be the ones to dismantle it. So that’s on us,” he said.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts sparked controversy when the nominations were announced last month and no people of color were nominated in the four film acting categories. Here in the U.S., the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences faced similar criticism when this year’s Oscar nominees were announced. Harriet star Cynthia Erivo was the only actor of color to receive an Oscar nod.