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Joaquin Phoenix attends the 2020 EE British Academy Film Awards on Sunday 2 February 2020

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Joaquin Phoenix might have a reservation open at the cookout thanks to his “systematic racism” speech at the BAFTA Awards this weekend.

According to IndieWire, Phoenix criticized the award shows for overlooking the contributions of people of color to the T.V. and movie industries. He did so while accepting his Best Actor BAFTA award for his role in “Joker”. This year, the BAFTA awards didn’t include a single actor of color as a nominee. Meanwhile, the Oscars only featured one actor of color nominee — a Best Actress nod for Cynthia Erivo in “Harriet“.

“I feel conflicted because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don’t have that same privilege,” Phoenix began telling the BAFTA audience. “I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here. 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.”

Phoenix went on to say, “I don’t think anybody wants a handout or preferential treatment, although that’s what we give ourselves every year. I think people just want to be acknowledged, 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. I have not done everything in my power to ensure that the sets I work on are inclusive, but I think it’s more than just having sets that are multicultural.”

Phoenix then called out the big elephant in many rooms — systemic racism.

“We have to do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism,” Phoenix said. “I think 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.”

The exclusion of Black actors as award nominees sparked another #BAFTAsSoWhite this year. The social media campaign was inspired by 2015’s #OscarsSoWhite started by April Reign, and over the years #BAFTAsSoWhite has always been a rallying cry when the British Academy failed to nominate people of color. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it was trending in 2015 and 2017, eventually spawning a 2018 report that revealed 94 percent of all BAFTA film award nominees have been white. The study by business psychology firm Pearn Kandola also showed that 92 percent of nominees for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress had been white.

The 2020 nominations clearly didn’t see any improvements.

BAFTA’s director of awards, Emma Baehr seemed to, at least, acknowledge the issue, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “We’d have liked to have seen more diversity in the nominations, it does continue to be an industry-wide issue. I think more films need to be made, and entered, giving people a chance to see them. We’d absolutely like to see more diversity, but I also don’t want to take away from those celebrating today.”

Time will tell if the British Academy will take heed to Phoenix’s speech and people of color’s words.


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