Joaquin Phoenix used his acceptance speech for Best Actor at the British Academy Film Awards to take steps towards becoming a true ally. The Joker star addressed the lack of diversity in the room head on from the podium at Royal Albert Hall.  

“I feel conflicted because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don’t have that same privilege. I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here,” he said moments after accepting the honor. 

“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.”

The controversy surrounding the nominations at this year’s BAFTA Awards prompted the resurgence of the hashtag #baftassowhite on Twitter. 

Phoenix went on to acknowledge he contributed to the lack of opportunity for diverse people throughout his career by not being intentional.

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“I don’t think anybody wants a handout or preferential treatment, although that’s what we give ourselves every year. I think people just want to be acknowledged, 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,” said Phoenix. 

He continued: “I have not done everything in my power to ensure that the sets I work on are inclusive, but I think it’s more than just having sets that are multicultural. We have to do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism. I think 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.” 

Later that evening The Farewell director Lulu Wang tweeted about the immediate aftermath of Phoenix’s words. “An uncomfortable silence filled the hall for a long noticeable moment,” she wrote. 

Looks like Black History Month is off to a good start.