Joaquin Phoenix with his Best Actor award for “The Joker’ poses in the Winners Room during the EE British Academy Film Awards 2020 on February 02, 2020 in London, England.
Photo: Gareth Cattermole (Getty Images)

In the great circle of strife known as modern Hollywood, we have a routine awards ceremony filled with progressive calls to action made by rich liberals who dare to rebel against the non-political speech taboo. Sometimes, [insert marginalized group here] gets to take home a shiny award or two!

And then…we go back to regularly unseasoned programming.

Not to be outdone by its lily-white play cousin the Oscars, the BAFTAs came under fire for its lack of diversity, including a completely white actor/actress nominee list and a completely male director nominee list. Like last year, the EE Rising Star Award was black, at least. Michael Ward (Top Boy) took home the statuette.

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Never one to keep his opinions mum, highly decorated actor Joaquin Phoenix decided to use his platform to say something about it, as he accepted the Leading Actor award for his performance in Joker.

“I feel conflicted because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don’t have that same privilege. I think we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here,” he said, calling out the industry’s systemic racism.

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“I don’t think anybody wants a handout or preferential treatment, people just want to be acknowledged, appreciated and respected for their work. This is not a self-righteous condemnation. I’m part of the problem.”

The 45-year-old actor dropped the figurative mic and even began to walk offstage without his statuette before walking back to retrieve it. As The Hollywood Reporter noted, other attendees used their platform to address the non-diverse elephant in the room as well, including Rebel Wilson and Prince William.

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In case you haven’t been paying attention, Phoenix (not unlike the jokester character he’s portrayed and won a bunch of awards for) is a white man.

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I’m going to make this clear right now. I’m not here to give cookies to an A-List white actor acknowledging a problem we all know has long existed. Besides, he won’t eat them anyway (unless they’re vegan) since it’s awards season and he has to fit into his suit. But, I digress.

The main thing I appreciated about the speech is that he didn’t come from a self-righteous or pat-on-the-back place, acknowledged his own privilege and complicity and directed the speech to the very audience who needs to hear it. More often than not, creators of color are asked about diversity issues in Hollywood when it’s not our burden to bear. Direct that damn energy to the oppressors, not the oppressed.

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That said, the speech is only the first step. I am curious how Hollywood will go beyond lip service and take some action. And Phoenix is most definitely counted in that “Hollywood” tally.

The speech certainly made an impact on Black Twitter and caused a larger conversation around the significance of words being followed by effective action.

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Apparently, Slave Play and Zola scribe Jeremy O. Harris hinted that he’ll be writing for the acclaimed actor soon.

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Recruiter/Consultant Stevee-Rayne Warren also provided insight via Twitter into the time she consulted for the film, Joker. She recalled the time Warner Bros. held a PA (Production Assistant) Bootcamp and of the select PAs chosen to work on set, every one of them were either black or a person of color, with 10 of them being women.

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“I can’t speak for the authenticity [of] Joaquin’s acceptance speech, but I can say there are few productions that have shocked me by how they prioritize inclusive hiring processes & Joker was one of them,” Warren tweeted on Monday.

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We’ll see what happens. I’ll have my popcorn ready…

To see the complete list of winners at the 2020 EE British Academy Film Awards, head to bafta.org.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

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