In not so shocking news, no people of color were nominated for the acting categories at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards (BAFTAs). But in quite a surprising move, award season-favorite Joaquin Phoenix took his moment at the podium to speak out against the systemic racism in Hollywood.
“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,” Phoenix began his acceptance speech after winning for best actor in a leading role for The Joker. It was a moment that made other (white) actors in the audience visibly uncomfortable and shift in their seats and we were here for it.
“I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here,” he added. “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.”
The Oscars have also been criticized for its all-white nominations with #oscarssowhite trending four years ago and today it remains true with only one of the 20 acting nominees being a POC (Cynthia Erivo for Harriet).
Some of the contenders whose performances were deemed Oscar-worthy include Eddie Murphy in Dolemite is My Name, Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers, Lupita Nyong’o of Us, and the social justice drama Just Mercy starring Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan. Furthermore, these roles are significant when POC rarely get leading roles in major films, to begin with.
Last year Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative in partnership with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) and Wise Entertainment released a report shining a light on the lack of Latinx representation in Hollywood. They found that only three percent of movies featured Latinx actors in lead roles from 2007 through 2018 in the 100 top-grossing films and J.Lo was the only Latinx actress over 45 to star in a film in the last 12 years.
“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,” Phoenix went on to say.
He then made it clear that it’s on the powers that be to make a change and that it should go beyond just checking off a diversity list, it should be true inclusion and real diversity in order for any real change to be made.
“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.”