Joaquin Phoenix took home the Oscar for Best Actor on Sunday night, using his speech to talk about fighting against injustice, second chances and humanity while also honouring his late brother, River Phoenix.
The actor took the stage at the 92nd annual Academy Awards to accept his statue for his role as the title character in Todd Phillips’ Joker.
“I’m full of so much gratitude and I do not feel elevated above any of my fellow nominees or anybody in this room because we share the same love ― the love of film,” he began his speech, before going explaining that his platform has helped him use his voice “for the voiceless.”
The 45-year-old expressed that he’s been thinking “a lot about the distressing issues” in our country right now and the many different causes we all support. He told the audience that he believes that we’re all “fighting against injustice” and that everyone has become “very disconnected from the natural world.”
“We’re guilty of an egocentric world view,” said Phoenix, before adding that we “go into the natural world and we plunder it for its resources.”
Phoenix’s speech also touched on animal rights, and he specifically went into graphic detail discussing the dairy industry.
“We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow, and then we take her baby... Then we take her milk and put it in our coffee,” he said.
The actor continued on to say that the people in the room gave him a second chance in life, and told the crowd those chances when “we’re at our best.”
“When we support each other, not when we cancel each other out for past mistakes, but when we help each other grow. When we educate each other. When we guide each other toward redemption, that is the best of humanity,” he said, before tearing up to quote lyrics from his late brother, River Phoenix’s band, Aleka’s Attic. River died in 1993.
“When he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric. He said, ’Run to the rescue with love, and peace will follow,’” he concluded his speech.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has come in for criticism this year ― and not for the first time ― for the homogeneity of its nominees. Only one person of colour was nominated in any of the four acting categories (Cynthia Erivo, for Best Actress in Harriet), and all of the nominees for Best Director were male.
Phoenix, for his part, also won Best Actor for Joker at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards earlier this month, and similarly used his platform there to criticise the organisation for its treatment of people of colour. All 20 nominations in the BAFTAs’ four main acting categories this year went to white performers.
“The BAFTAs have already been very supportive of my career and I’m deeply appreciative,” Phoenix said at that awards show. “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. I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here.”
At the BAFTAs, Phoenix acknowledged that he himself has “not done everything in my power to ensure that the sets I work on are inclusive.” But he said Hollywood needs to “really do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism.”
He explained that 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.”