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Joaquin Phoenix’s speech stood alone at the 2020 Academy Awards

Joaquin Phoenix received his first Oscar for best actor in the Joker. His acceptance speech seemed to stand out above the rest.
Quinn Patrick Montreal, QC

Joaquin Phoenix received his first Oscar for best actor in the Joker. His acceptance speech seemed to stand out above the rest. He touched on his love for his craft and that he doesn’t “feel above anybody in the room” because they all mutually share this love. He then discussed his feelings surrounding many of the major issues of our times not as separate but rather as one all-encompassing issue.

“[We have to] continue to use our voice for the voiceless.” Phoenix began, I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the distressing issues that we are facing collectively. I think at times we feel, or were made to feel, that we champion different causes, but for me, I see commonality. I think, whether we’re talking about gender inequality or racism or queer rights or indigenous rights or animal rights, we’re talking about the fight against injustice. We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender or one species has the right to dominate, control and use and exploit another with impunity.”

There was an applause break before Phoenix went on to give his views of how we’ve become disconnected from nature.

“I think that we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world, and many of us, what we’re guilty of is an egocentric worldview—the belief that we’re the center of the universe. We go into the natural world, and we plunder it for its resources. We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow, and when she gives birth, we steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable.

Then, we take her milk, that’s intended for her calf, and we put it in our coffee and our cereal, and I think we fear the idea of personal change because we think that we have to sacrifice something to give something up. But human beings, at our best, are so inventive and creative and ingenious, and I think that when we use love and compassion as our guiding principles, we can create, develop and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and to the environment.”

That garnered applause from the audience again before Phoenix began to look inward and speak about his own actions and character.

“Now, I have been a scoundrel in my life. I’ve been selfish. I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with and ungrateful, but so many of you in this room have given me a second chance. And I think that’s when we’re at our best, when we support each other, not when we cancel each other out for past mistakes, but when we help each other to grow, when we educate each other, when we guide each other toward redemption. That is the best of community.”

It was interesting to see an actor discuss their own behaviour in a critical light; it’s not something you see coming out of Hollywood very often these days. Phoenix showed much more humility and coherence than he did in his recent Golden Globes acceptance speech. Perhaps the tide may be turning on cancel culture.

Finally, he finished off his speech with a lyric, written by his late brother, River Phoenix, who was himself an accomplished actor.

“When he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric. It said, ‘Run to the rescue with love, and peace will follow.’

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