Phoenix thanks audience for second chance

J. Kim Murphy
Joaquin Phoenix: acting's greatest gift is the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless

Joaquin Phoenix accepted his best actor Oscar for Joker with a lengthy and impassioned speech that touched on racism, animal rights and his own ability to grow and change.

"I do not feel elevated above any of my fellow nominees or anyone in this room because we share the same love, the love of film, and this form of expression has given me the most extraordinary life," Phoenix said.

"I don't know what I'd be without it.

"But I think the greatest gift that it has given me and many of us in this room is the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless."

In an expansion to his speech at the BAFTAs about representation in the film industry, Phoenix referenced a suite of progressive causes.

"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," he said.

"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 centre of the universe."

The actor, who has influenced several awards season events to adopt vegan or mostly vegan menus, continued, "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.

"I think we fear the idea of personal change because we think we have to sacrifice something, to give something up.

"But human beings at our best are so inventive and creative and ingenious, 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."

Phoenix then alluded to his reputation for difficult behavior on set as an actor and most notoriously for his 2010 mockumentary I'm Still Here.

"I've been a scoundrel in my life. I've been selfish, I've been cruel at times, hard to work with," he said.

"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."

After a long, emotional pause, Phoenix concluded by evoking his late brother River.

Phoenix won for his portrayal of Arthur Fleck, a failed stand-up comedian turned Batman's most notorious villain in Todd Phillips' Joker.

He had been nominated three times before: best supporting actor for Gladiator (2001) and twice in best actor for Walk the Line (2006) and The Master (2013).