Cynthia Erivo scored an Oscar nomination this year for Best Actress thanks to her performance in “Harriet.” The recognition is notable not only for being the Tony winner’s first Academy Award nomination but also for being the sole performer of color to land an Oscar nomination at the 92nd Academy Awards. This year’s near-shut out of actors of color has reignited the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, made all the more pressing after the BAFTA Film Awards did not nominate a single actor of color. As a result, Erivo declined the BAFTA’s invitation to perform her now Oscar-nominated song “Stand Up” from “Harriet” during the ceremony. Cut to the BAFTA awards, where Joaquin Phoenix won Best Actor for “Joker” and used his time at the podium to criticize awards season for routinely omitting actors of color.
“It meant that someone like him was listening and seeing what is going on and has gotten to the point where he can pretend it’s not happening anymore,” Erivo recently told Variety, praising the “Joker” actor for calling out Oscar season on such a public platform. “And to say it in a place that at that time, he was really brave and it meant a lot to me, as a Brit, to hear him say it.”
“I hope we didn’t fall on deaf ears. We never know,” Erivo continued. “But I think it was time for someone like him to say it, because people like me, the black girls of the world, the black men of the world, are saying it consistently, but we’re not always being heard. So maybe it might have taken that to change something.”
Erivo shared similar thoughts with New York Times carpetbagger Kyle Buchanan this week, saying, “I thought it was incredibly brave for him to speak on it. It needed to be said, and it needed to be said by someone like him, because people like me are saying it all the time and it doesn’t get heard.”
While accepting the BAFTA Best Actor prize, Joaquin admitted he is a part of the problem in Hollywood and said he felt ashamed to be contributing to the white privilege that results in actors of color being shut out of awards races. “I feel conflicted because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don’t have that same privilege,” Phoenix said of winning. “I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here. I think that’s the message that we’re sending to people that have contributed so much to our medium and our industry, and in ways that we benefit from.”
Phoenix is the favorite to win the Best Actor Oscar on Sunday, while Erivo faces tough competition from Best Actress frontrunner Renee Zellweger.
I asked Cynthia Erivo about Joaquin Phoenix’s BAFTA speech: “I thought it was incredibly brave for him to speak on it,” she told me. “It needed to be said, and it needed to be said by someone like him, because people like me are saying it all the time and it doesn’t get heard.”
— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) February 6, 2020