This year’s Oscar nominees featured a very distinct lack of diversity, given that they were even more dominated by while male nominees than usual. Snubs included the omission of Parasite and Us actors, along with Eddie Murphy for his best movie in years, Dolemite Is My Name. Cynthia Erivo, the sole actor of color nominated by the Academy (for Harriet), lamented the issue, and Academy member Stephen King stepped in it with his diversity remarks before backtracking, but this white-male-awards domination isn’t limited to the Oscars. It includes much of the film industry, and Joaquin Phoenix knows it.
Across the pond at the BAFTAs on Saturday night, Phoenix won for his Joker performance as Arthur Fleck. He’s already used his platform this year to shambolically argue for mass adoption of a vegan diet (and then he got arrested during a protest), and he used his awards speech to draw attention to the issue:
“I feel very honored and privileged to be here tonight. The BAFTAs have always been very supportive of my career and I’m deeply appreciative … but I have to say that I also feel very 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. I think that’s the message that we’re sending to people that have contributed so much to our medium, and our industry, in ways that we benefit from.
Phoenix then shaded those who prefer a meritocracy with awards shows. “I don’t think anybody wants a handout or preferential treatment,” he stated, “[A]lthough that’s what we give ourselves every year.” The gauntlet has been thrown, and he wasn’t done yet: “This is not a self-righteous condemnation because I’m ashamed to say that I’m part of the problem.” He went on to stress that he insists upon inclusive film sets, but that’s not enough. “I think that we have to really do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism,” he argued. “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.”
Obviously, Phoenix is well aware of the Oscars Best Director field not including one woman nominee, given that Joker director Todd Phillips receiving a nomination over Greta Gerwig (for Little Women). Further, Joker has been honored with 11 Oscar nods altogether, all for the story of a marginalized white male named Arthur Fleck who went on to become the greatest supervillain of Gotham. Of course, Fleck’s marginalization by the upper crust was devastating in its own right, but Phoenix knows that there are many other deserving stories from diverse artists who deserve their own recognition.