Joaquin Phoenix has won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as the infamous Batman villain Joker in the film of the same name. This should come as a surprise to no one, considering going into the 2020 Oscars, he’d already won a BAFTA, Golden Globe, SAG Award, Critics’ Choice award, and a few other honors ever since the film premiered to an eight-minute standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival last August.
This was Phoenix's fourth Oscar nomination and first win, and he used his time on stage much like he's been using his time in the spotlight for all of awards season: to highlight causes dear to him. (And not only did he talk the talk, but he walked the walk by wearing the same suit to every single event.) And this time around, Phoenix got more personal than ever, looking inward at his own faults and paying homage to his late brother, River.
Phoenix opened his speech with an earnest moment of thanks. "I’m full of so much gratitude right now, and 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," he said. "And this form of expression has given me the most extraordinary life. I don’t know what I’d be without it."
But, he continued, the best thing his profession has given him is the ability to be a "voice for the voiceless."
Tonight, however, Phoenix didn't want to spotlight just one sect of the voiceless; he wanted to show that all of the causes we individually champion are connected. "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," he said. "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."
"I think that we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world," he continued. "And many of us, what we're guilty of is an egocentric worldview — the belief that we’re the center of the universe."
Phoenix called out the way we all so carelessly exploit the world around us, and the way we are so reluctant to change our ways to live more harmoniously with each other and with nature. But, he added, we don't have to be that way. We can "use love and compassion as our guiding principles" to make the world better.
That's when Phoenix stepped off his soapbox and looked in the mirror, delivering the most vulnerable and self-reflective part of his speech. "Now, I have been a scoundrel in my life. I have been selfish, I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I am grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance," he said. "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."
Then Phoenix paused, catching his voice in his throat to deliver his final heartfelt thought, recalling River, who died at the age of 23. "When he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric: He said, ‘Run to the rescue with love and peace will follow.’"