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Joaquin Phoenix calls out “systemic racism” in candid BAFTAs speech

Joaquin Phoenix won Best Actor at the “British Oscars” and used his speech to take himself—and others with power and privilege—to task.

Joaquin Phoenix calls out “systemic racism” in candid BAFTAs speech

This year’s British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards (BAFTAs) nominees drew heavy criticism for its lack of inclusiveness: Not a single person of color was up for an award in the any of the acting categories.

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The outcry mirrored issues of racial and gender parity stateside as the Academy faced its own backlash (yet again) for a very white and very male list of Oscar nominees. While British actors including Gemma Arterton and Carey Mulligan are working with Time’s Up UK to push BAFTA toward more diversity, the fight has found a somewhat unlikely ally in none other than Joaquin Phoenix.

Unsurprisingly, Phoenix won Best Actor in a Leading Role for Joker. Surprisingly, however, he used his time on stage to take himself and others in positions of power and privilege to task for not just slacking on pushing for inclusion, but failing to understand the root cause of why it’s a pressing issue in the first place.

“I feel very honored and privileged to be here tonight. BAFTAs has always been very supportive of my career, and I’m deeply appreciative,” Phoenix started. “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. 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 [who] have contributed so much to our medium and our industry and in ways that we benefit from.”

Phoenix went on to admit that he’s “part of the problem,” having not done “everything in my power to ensure that the sets I work on are inclusive.”

However, as he goes on to mention, it’s more than having boxes to check on a set. It’s about actually understanding the problem of systemic racism and doing the work to combat it. But the work shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of those who are marginalized—the bulk of it rests with those who hold power.

“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,” Phoenix said. ” So that’s on us.”

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With his performance in Joker earning him top awards at the Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and now BAFTA Awards, Phoenix is considered the leading contender to win the Best Actor Oscar.

Now let’s see if he brings that same speech energy to the Academy on Sunday, February 9.

Read Phoenix’s full BAFTA speech below:

I feel very honored and privileged to be here tonight. BAFTAs has always been very 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.

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. I don’t think anybody wants a handout or a preferential treatment, although that’s what we give ourselves every year.

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. I have not done everything in my power to ensure that the sets I work 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.

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.

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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