Why Allyship From White Hollywood Is Hard To Find
But a few come through…
Actor Joaquin Phoenix who happens to be the younger brother of the late River Phoenix, who found stardom early and tragically died in 1993, has succeeded in establishing his trajectory in honor of his revered older brother.
I was first mesmerized by his riveting performance opposite Nicole Kidman in Gus Van Sant’s stylistic dramedy, To Die For, and the same applause was given for his superb turn in the critically-acclaimed, Joker.
When it comes to who Joaquin Phoenix is outside his uncanny ability to breathtakingly absorb each character he takes on, there isn’t much to gather aside from his passionate pursuits as an animal rights activists and allegiance to a vegan lifestyle.
But that changed after a viral clip capturing his acceptance speech at this year’s BAFTA awards hit all the right notes with the community of creatives, who are constantly shut out from the prime opportunity of being ceremoniously feted in ways that match their more valuable counterparts.
Phoenix was gracious enough to put his upper-crust audience through the wringer with indisputable facts of systemic racism in an industry that is obstinately against the notion of being infected with the virus of inclusion.
When #OscarsSoWhite became the anthem for mandated diversity in the arena of entertainment, after the Oscar nominations that year, reflected the themes of whiteness that were replicated this year, there was the premature belief that public shaming from the maddened crowd would do the trick.
But the truth is that the only reason why we’ve been gifted with the recent avalanche of ambitious projects, that are infused with narratives that were discarded because of the fear of global rejection, is due to the salivation of white studio executives and investors, who are strategically positioned to reap the profits from creative disingenuousness.
Interesting that the winning formula of a diverse cast in blockbuster movies wasn’t palatable for positive reviews in 1998, but somehow in 2018, the previous attitude of negativity has been dismantled by the cultural phenomenon of Black Panther, with white Disney executives strutting all the way to the bank with shameless whiteness.
Phoenix did a masterful job laying out the basic indecency of an industry that has been very good to him, and very foul to actors of color, particularly Black actresses, who continue to suffer the worst of the mistreatment, based on our undesirability as love interests.
Black actors don’t seem to have a terrible time getting hired, even when they are as dark as night. And when the parts dry up in white-centric markets like Europe, where racism is a non-negotiable infliction, heading to the States is the next phase for transitioning careers.
But as a whole, Hollywood, and the various arms of white-owned interpretations, are purely motivated by the principle of retaining the power that dictates the viability of white ingenues, and white male superstars, who have to always dominate the handful of Black contenders, who have to appeal specifically to white audiences.
That blueprint can’t be stretched to accommodate the evolving template of performers and creatives who work even harder for the recognition that never fails to pass them by.
However, while we debate the unlikelihood that the affecting speech Phoenix unleashed on mostly white and bored observers, decked out in million dollar costumes, will have the impact to garner major revisions in the realm of equality, we can’t downplay the significance of his allyship.
When white folks beg for guidance in the action of tangible alignment, the answer always recalls how tendencies shift when you’re faced with the blatancy of your privilege, at the expense of the population that has to bear the brunt of willful exclusion across the board.
Some opt to pretend that their whiteness is a noble status that can’t be helped or is beyond their interference, while others like Phoenix who hasn’t been known for speaking out against injustice levied on people of color in the past, make the bold decision to maximize star power for the sake of calling out normalized dysfunction.
British cinema follows a similar method of casting as the notoriously white French cinema, as evident in the glitzy rosters of the illustrious Cannes Film Festival, that incidentally became the venue for a timely protest in 2018, by a collective of Black actresses who railed against the longstanding racism in French cinema.
When we take a stand and proclaim our unwillingness to blissfully ignore the warning signs of problematic cultures, it’s the dignified and unwavering approach to exposing the ugliness that keeps getting prettied up with temporary bandages that fall off.
Joaquin Phoenix did what he had to do with his moment in the spotlight, and it sent the clear message of his allyship, which was received and understood by targeted receivers.
His good deed won’t automatically move the needle forward with impressive results in record time, but it demonstrates what happens when pampered white celebrities dare to read out the reasons why the Oscars and BAFTA awards remain devoted to “white-only.”
Those actions do matter.