Joaquin Phoenix's attack on Baftas for 'systemic racism' applauded

Catherine Shoard
·2-min read

Joaquin Phoenix’s powerful broadside against the body that awarded him the best actor prize on Sunday night has met with a chorus of praise across the film industry.

In his speech, Phoenix said he felt conflicted by his victory “because so many of my fellow actors who are deserving don’t have that same privilege”.

He added: “We send a very clear message to people of colour that ‘you’re not welcome here.’”

The all-white acting nominees announced by Bafta last month provoked uproar, with the hashtag #BaftasSoWhite once more trending and some fearing this year’s ceremony might face a boycott.

“I don’t think anybody wants a handout or preferential treatment,” continued Phoenix. “People just want to be acknowledged and appreciated and respected for their work.

“I’m ashamed to say that I’m part of the problem, because I’ve not ensured that the sets I’ve worked on are inclusive.

He added: “We have to do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism. It is the obligation of the people who have created and benefit from the system of oppression to be the ones to dismantle it. So that’s on us.”

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Phoenix’s words were met by what Lulu Wang – the director of Chinese-American drama The Farewell, which was nominated for best original screenplay – called “an uncomfortable silence … for a long noticeable moment”.

The Great Hack’s Carole Cadwalladr, the Observer reporter, also expressed admiration for Phoenix’s use of the podium to put forward uncomfortable views. Across Twitter, the actor’s speech was hailed variously as pertinent, essential and the most important moment of the evening.

Phoenix, 45, who is the frontrunner to take the best actor Oscar next Sunday, spent the morning of the Baftas campaigning for a meat-free world with protesters on Tower Bridge.

Earlier in the evening, both host Graham Norton and awards presenter Rebel Wilson took aim at the lack of diversity being celebrated.

Norton called 2019 “the year when white men finally broke through”, and referred to Phoenix’s film Joker – which led the pack with 11 nominations – as “the story of a white man who makes himself even whiter”.

In his closing remarks, Prince William, Bafta’s president, alluded to the controversy, saying that, not for the first time, “we find ourselves talking again about the need to do more to ensure diversity in the sector and the awards process. That simply cannot be right in this day and age.”

One of the evening’s most popular winners was Micheal Ward, the Top Boy and Blue Story actor who won the rising star award.

Meanwhile, Korea’s Bong Joon-ho took two gongs, including best original screenplay, while adapted screenplay went to Jojo Rabbit’s Taika Waititi, who is of Maori descent.