Joaquin Phoenix is the undisputed Best Actor of the 2019/20 award season, cleaning up everywhere he goes, and the BAFTAs were no different. Since he is the undisputed champ, he actually prepared an acceptance speech in advance of his latest win. His Golden Globes speech was clearly unprepared, the sort of rambling thank you a woman would get roasted for (see also: Gwyneth Paltrow, Oscars 1999), though he still did get the most pointed burn of the night, better than anything Ricky Gervais begrudgingly tossed out, when he said, “Maybe don’t fly private to Palm Springs” to a roomful of people who fly private to Palm Springs. But for the BAFTAs he was ready, with a clearly practiced but no less sincere statement regarding diversity in his industry and how it is reflected at award shows.
Phoenix has obviously put a lot of thought into his remarks. This is not a half-assed sentiment he’s expressing, he has included and considered his own complicity in a system that benefits him more than anyone else, and he calls out his own shortcomings in not using his power to create more inclusive spaces. He mentions systemic racism and says that those who benefit from it need to be the ones to dismantle it (they’re the only ones who can dismantle it). This speech is especially targeted at the BAFTAs, which somehow managed to produce a nominee slate even more white than the Oscars.
During award season we frequently hear calls for award winners to keep politics out of their speeches; Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes explicitly ordered it. (“Don’t mention politics in your speech” is basically saying, “Don’t bring up any of the problems this body politic keeps perpetuating.”) But here’s the thing—an award show is a captive audience of the very people causing and continuing these issues. Joaquin Phoenix is not talking to the audience at home, he is talking to his peers in that room. He might not have another chance to talk to such a collection of his peers as he does right in that moment. If someone at home receives a message that opens their heart and mind and leads to improvement somewhere else, that is great. But Phoenix is talking to the members of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts about an issue that the British Academy of Film and Television Arts has. Just like his Palm Springs crack, it really only applies to the people in the room.
The only time everyone in Hollywood gets together is award season. If you want to address the elephant in the room, now is the time to do it. I get that some people don’t want to hear it, but if you care about film and the state of the film industry, this is absolutely the moment to bring up the issues regarding inclusion in the industry. The people Phoenix is talking to are the ones in the best position to actually make the necessary changes. Not every award winner wants to talk politics, but Joaquin Phoenix does and there isn’t a better moment for it.