Joaquin Phoenix won the Best Actor tonight for his mesmerizing portrayal of the iconic villain in Joker, and used his time on Hollywood’s most prominent stage to rail against prejudice, the dairy industry, and cancel culture.
Phoenix has given his share of oddball interviews over the years, and tonight’s acceptance speech was in character for him, a meandering trip through multiple topics.
He began expressing his gratitude for “the love of film and this form of expression [that] has given me the most extraordinary life,” a feeling he said he shared with his fellow nominees.
The “greatest gift” that being in the film industry had given him, continued Phoenix, was “the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless.” He then segued from a discussion of racism and other civil rights into a detailed discussion of animal rights, specifically targeting the dairy industry:
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 the belief, one nation, one race, one gender, or one species has the right to dominate, control and use and exploit another with impunity.
I think that we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world and many of us, what we’re guilty of is an egocentric world view, 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. And then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.
Phoenix’s anti-dairy diatribe spawned numerous jokes on social media, but the next segment of his speech struck a very different tone, advocating for forgiveness and redemption, expressly denouncing the idea of “cancel[ling] each other out for past mistakes.”
Now, I have been — I’ve been a scoundrel all my life. I’ve been selfish, I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I’m grateful, that 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 humanity.
Phoenix closed his speech with a touching tribute to his brother River Phoenix, who died of a drug overdose in 1993. Phoenix was visibly emotional as he quoted a song lyric his brother had written when he was 17, “Run to the rescue with love and peace will follow.”