Joaquin Phoenix calls out film industry's 'systemic racism' during BAFTAs speech

"I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here," Phoenix said in an acceptance speech.
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By Janelle Griffith

Joaquin Phoenix called out "systemic racism" in the movie industry during an acceptance speech at the British Academy Film Awards on Sunday.

Phoenix said he felt a range of emotions as he accepted the best actor award for the title role in the movie "Joker" at the BAFTAs, Britain's equivalent of the Oscars.

"I feel very honored and privileged to be here tonight," Phoenix, 45, said at the start of his speech. "BAFTAs have always been supportive of my career, and I'm deeply appreciative.

"But I have to say that I also feel conflicted, because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don't have that same privilege," he said.

No person of color was nominated in the acting categories, and no woman was featured in the list of nominations for best director.

"I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you're not welcome here," Phoenix continued. "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."

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Phoenix said he does not believe "anyone wants a handout or preferential treatment, although that's what we give ourselves every year."

Instead, he said, "I think that people just want to be acknowledged and 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," he also said, adding that he has not done everything in his power to ensure that the sets he works on are "inclusive."

"But I think that it's more than just having sets that are multicultural. I think that we have to really do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism," Phoenix said. "I think that 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 met with praise from actresses Viola Davis and Kerry Washington, director Lulu Wang and others.

Davis, who won a supporting actress BAFTA award in 2017 for her role in "Fences," thanked Phoenix in a tweet for his "honesty, solidarity and courage."

Wang, director of "The Farewell," tweeted Sunday: "An uncomfortable silence filled the hall for a long noticeable moment. Thank you Joaquin."

Washington said Phoenix was "spewing FACTS in his #BAFTA speech."

Amanda Berry, BAFTA's chief executive, told BBC radio last month, "I'm very disappointed," when asked about the lack of diversity among nominees. Berry said she had "hoped we'd see at least one female director."

"I have a saying which I drive my team crazy with, 'Talent is everywhere but opportunity is not,'" she told the BBC.

Berry added: "I just think we need to up our efforts and keep the pressure on the industry to create these opportunities."