Joaquin Phoenix gratefully accepted his Best Actor award at the Baftas on Sunday night. Then he dressed down the awards system — and the industry — for sending a “clear message to people of colour” that they’re “not welcome”.
The Joker spoke for two minutes to a dead-silent audience, before listeners erupted in cheers and applause.
“The Baftas have already been very supportive of my career and I’m deeply appreciative,” Joaquin began at the awards event at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where he was honored for his leading role in Joker.
“But I have to say I also feel conflicted because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don’t have that same privilege,” he added. “I think that we send a very clear message to people of colour that you’re not welcome here.”
Joaquin insisted his words weren’t a “self-righteous” criticism, continuing: “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 he also said the problem was more than simply pushing for “multicultural” sets.
“I think that we have to really do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism,” he added.
″[It’s 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.”
The lack of diversity in the film awards in Britain — and across the pond — is a perennial issue.
The chair of Bafta’s film committee Marc Samuelson early last month said this year’s lineup of acting award nominees represented an “infuriating lack of diversity”.
Emma Baehr, Bafta’s director of awards, told The Hollywood Reporter that while the academy would “have liked to have seen more diversity in the nominations, it does continue to be an industry-wide issue”.
British star Cynthia Erivo, the lone actor of colour nominated at the upcoming Oscars this year for her leading role as abolitionist Harriet Tubman in the film Harriet, refused a request to sing at the Bafta ceremony because of the lack of diversity.
Her appearance isn’t “something that can be thrown in as a party trick,” she complained in an interview with Extra last month.
“I work hard, and every single person of colour who is working in these films this year has worked really hard, and there are many of them who deserve to be celebrated,” she emphasised.
The issue is bound to come up again on Sunday at the Oscars, which Joaquin and Cynthia will both attend as favourites to win the Best Actor and Best Actress awards.
Check out the full list of winners – including Renée Zellweger and 1917 – here.