During his acceptance speech, he addressed the awards system — and the industry — for sending a “clear message to people of color” that they’re “not welcome here.”
He spoke for minutes to a dead-silent audience that included fellow nominees Adam Driver and Saoirse Ronan before listeners erupted in cheers and applause.
“The BAFTAs have already been very supportive of my career and I’m deeply appreciative,” Phoenix began at the awards event at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where he was honored for his leading role in “Joker.”
“But I have to say I also feel conflicted because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don’t have that same privilege,” he added. “I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here.”
Phoenix said it wasn’t a “self-righteous” criticism. “I’m ashamed to say that I’m part of the problem,” he added, because “I have not done everything in my power to ensure that the sets I work on are inclusive.”
But he also said the problem was more than simply pushing for “multicultural” sets. “I think that we have to really do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism,” Phoenix added.
It’s 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,” he concluded.
The lack of diversity in the film awards in Britain — and across the pond — is a perennial issue.
The chair of BAFTA’s film committee Marc Samuelson early last month said this year’s lineup of acting award nominees represented an “infuriating lack of diversity.”
Emma Baehr, BAFTA’s director of awards, told The Hollywood Reporter that while the academy would “have liked to have seen more diversity in the nominations, it does continue to be an industry-wide issue.”