Baftas 2020: best actor winner Joaquin Phoenix calls out “systemic racism”

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Anna Brech
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The actor Joaquin Phoenix used his best actor acceptance speech at the Baftas tonight to launch an honest and scathing assessment of the award season’s lack of diversity and inclusivity.

Every actor nominated for this year’s Bafta awards was white, prompting the hashtag #BaftasSoWhite to trend last month when the shortlist was announced.

It was also a stark fact that formed the basis of Joaquin Phoenix’s speech as he picked up the Bafta for best actor in tonight’s Covent Garden ceremony.

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Accepting the award, Phoenix said he was grateful for the recognition, but added that he felt conflicted due to the glaring lack of diversity within both the award categories, and the industry more widely.

“We send a very clear message to people of colour that ‘you’re not welcome here’,” he said.

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

Phoenix said he didn’t intend his speech to be self-righteous. “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 explained.

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However, the issue of diversity went way beyond set work, Phoenix said, as he called on the audience to help understand and tackle “systemic racism” in Hollywood.

“We really have to do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism,” he said. “I think that it is the obligation of the people who have created and perpetuated and benefited from a system of oppression to dismantle it… so that’s on us.”

Phoenix’s speech was greeted with heartfelt applause by the Bafta audience, and his words were quickly picked up on Twitter, too.

While some people applauded the fact that he used his speech to get an important message across, others pointed out that he was the first (and only) person to address the #BaftasSoWhite outcry during tonight’s ceremony.

Theatre makers, writers and other commentators were quick to condemn the lack of diversity after the Bafta nominations were released last month.

 Appearing on Good Morning Britain, Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu described the omission as a “deliberate dereliction of duty” by the Bafta Academy to recognise “diverse outstanding talent”.

“Diversity is not just a declaration, it must be a demonstration,” she said.

A speech like Phoenix delivered tonight can’t possibly solve the injustice: but it does at least bring it one step further into open dialogue. 

Images: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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