There's currently a major disconnect between acting like an ally and actually being one for people of color and other minority groups. Many of us are guilty of "talking the talk" by claiming our positions as allies, while we never "walk the walk" by making real progress for these communities.
Actor Joaquin Phoenix demonstrated what it means to be an ally this weekend when he used his stage time for accepting an award to talk about inclusion.
At the 73rd British Academy Film Awards, Joaquin Phoenix received an award for Leading Actor for his 2019 film, Joker. But when it was time to take the stage to accept his award, Phoenix shared his mixed feelings for receiving the award, in light of the lack of people of color represented in the nominations for the BAFTAs.
This year, not one person of color was nominated for a Best Acting role, and no women were short-listed for Best Director.
As far as hashtags go, "BAFTASoWhite" is trending alongside the more traditional "BAFTA," as onlookers discuss the exclusively white list of acting nominees.
In response, Phoenix only took a moment to share his thanks and otherwise used his moment in the spotlight to address the problem.
In his acceptance speech, Phoenix said:
"I feel very honored and privileged to be here tonight. The BAFTAs have always been very supportive of my career, and I'm very appreciative. But I have to say that I also 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. I think that that's the message we're sending to people that have contributed so much to our medium and our industry in ways that we benefit from."
"I don't think that anybody wants a handout or preferential treatment, although that's what we give ourselves every year. I think that people just want to be acknowledged and appreciated and respected for their work."
Phoenix went on to explain what he believes needs to change, including within himself:
"This is not a self-righteous condemnation, because I'm ashamed to say that I am part of the problem. 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. I think that we have to really do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism."
"I think that it is the obligation of the people who have created and perpetuate and benefit from a system of oppression to be the ones that dismantle it. So that's on us."
The audience was uncomfortably silent throughout the duration of Phoenix's speech, at least until this final statement, when the room erupted in applause.
You can watch Phoenix's speech here:
It's promising to see someone like Joaquin Phoenix, who is regularly recognized for his work, step forward from a privileged position, and then not only point out that he is privileged but also address the need for change.
Many followers of the BAFTAs have shared Phoenix's speech yesterday, expressing their thanks and admiration for the challenging speech.
We have a long way to go in diversifying and equalizing the film industry, and every other field, to better represent people of color and other minorities.
But as long as we continue the conversation, and push to change the system that perpetuates inequality, we're at least on the right track to improvement.