Cinema – The day after the BAFTA, everyone is just talking about it. Joaquin Phoenix, winner of the Best Actor Award for his role in ‘Joker’, delivered a powerful speech against racism in the film industry, on Sunday 2 February in London. Something to remind some of the powerful nod to Marlon Brando in 1973.
“We are sending a very clear message to people of color that you are not welcome here,” Todd Phillips’ subversive hero denounced. Far from making a “moral speech”, the 45-year-old American shrugged off his guilt: “I’m ashamed to say I’m part of the problem. I didn’t do everything to make sure that the pictures I worked on were as diverse as possible.”
I think it is up to those who created, persisted, and took advantage of the system of oppression to dismantle it. It’s up to us to do that,” Joaquin Phoenix ended the applause that broke the complete calm that pervaded the room.
A few hours after his speech, many actors and actresses in the film industry welcomed this denunciation of systemic racism. On Twitter, Viola Davis, producer and actress of “How to Get Rid of Murder” in particular, commented on Phoenix’s “honesty, solidarity and courage.” While “Farewell” director Lulu Wang described “an uncomfortable silence that filled the room for a long time” before thanking the actor.
Of course, Joaquin Phoenix isn’t the first to point out the omnipresent white male presence at award ceremonies and in general in the film industry. Early in 2016, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite came up against the utter lack of diversity in the Queen’s categories at the Hollywood gala. Back in January, British filmmaker Steve McQueen positioned himself as the spokesperson for the #BaftaSoWhite movement.
However, the strong, committed rhetoric of the anti-Joker hero, which isn’t his first, suggests it could reach its climax on Sunday, February 9 at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles. While Joaquin Phoenix was also nominated for “Best Actor” alongside Adam Driver or Leonardo DiCaprio, would he go so far as to deny his potential award to celebrate his convictions?
If we allow ourselves to imagine such a scenario, it’s because Joaquin Phoenix’s commitment is remembering another who crosses the history of the Oscars. In 1973, Marlon Brando, then at the height of his career, was the favorite for an Oscar for Best Actor for his role in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. Yes, but now, while the boycott rumor has swirled for a few days, the movie icon is gone that evening.
At the moment of her victory announcement, a young woman with two long brown pigtails steps up on stage, refusing to receive an Oscar and says, “Good evening, my name is Sacheen Littlefeather. I am Apache and I am the chairperson of the Native American Positive Image Committee. I represent Marlon Brando in this the party “.
In front of a silent room, she continues, “It is unfortunate that he cannot accept this very generous reward, because of the way the film industry treats Native Americans today.” A sudden decision by the actor was greeted with boos like applause as clashes between authorities and Native American activists in Wounded Knee (South Dakota) rocked the country a few days ago.
In a longer letter written by Marlon Brando and published in the press after the 1973 Academy Awards, he denounced the fact that the main roles of Native American characters are played by white actors in the West, while Native Americans are relegated to secondary roles. He wrote: “The film industry is responsible for insulting the Indian by making his character a caricature and portraying him as savage, hostile and evil.” (…) When Indian children watch TV or movies, and when they see how their race is represented there, their souls are hurt in a way one cannot imagine.”
Nearly 50 years later, the lack of diversity and equality on screen and behind the camera is still at the center of the debate. And everything indicates that the 92nd Academy Awards this Sunday, February 9 in Los Angeles will inevitably be marked by these discussions, whether or not Joaquin Phoenix crowned an award that evening. It remains to be seen if this awareness will have any real consequences for the industry.
See also on The HuffPost: Joaquin Phoenix arrested at Jane Fonda ‘illegal’ protest