Many had predicted Joaquin Phoenix was going to win the best actor Oscar. What they couldn't predict was what he would do with his 45 seconds on stage. After all, when he won at the BAFTAs he discussed systemic racism in the entertainment industry, when he won at the Golden Globes he called out his fellow celebrities for their use of private jets, when he won at the Critics' Choice Awards he discussed gun violence, and after he won at the SAG Awards he hurried off to a vigil for pigs about to be slaughtered. Oh, did we say 45 seconds? Phoenix's Oscars acceptance speech, which you can watch in full here or read in full here, actually went on for nearly 4 minutes, and the reactions to it ran the gamut from annoyed to baffled to laudatory. A sample:
- The Daily Beast calls the speech "a meandering address that managed to touch on human selfishness, artificial bovine insemination, and the actor’s late brother, River Phoenix." Laura Bradley notes that the part about artificially inseminating cows was "a little strange," and deems the speech overall "wild."
- The cow line in question: "We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable," said Phoenix. "Then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal."
- Steve Rose at the Guardian calls it "one of the most progressive and undeniably bizarre acceptance speeches in living memory" and dubs Phoenix "Hollywood's poster boy of progress." Yes, the bit about cows threatened to take the whole thing off the rails, "but Phoenix brought his speech back round to a stirring plea for selflessness, forgiveness and respect," ultimately "calling out racism, misogyny, intolerance, inequality, cancel culture and bovine rights." Speaking of bovine rights, Rose notes Phoenix, a vegan, has made real change, pushing several awards ceremonies to veer away from meat in their menus.
- Breitbart was unimpressed; Jerome Hudson said the "bonkers" speech was just a "tirade about every victim group on earth."
- Color the New York Post similarly unimpressed; Johnny Oleksinski calls Phoenix "a disgrace" who spent his time on stage "rambling like a street bum about the unspeakable injustices of cow’s milk."
- At Vox, Aja Romano calls the speech a "sprawling sociopolitical epic," and notes that Phoenix has used this entire awards season to turn the attention away from himself and onto others; in addition to social issues, he's talked about his brother and his late predecessor in the Joker role, Heath Ledger.
- In another Vox piece, Kelsey Piper says Phoenix's focus on the dairy industry was the most stand-out part of his speech. "By including 'animal rights' in the same sentence as a litany of other pressing issues—gender inequality, racism, queer rights, and indigenous rights—Phoenix elevated concern for the welfare of animals as something no less important than caring for fellow human beings."
- Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that PETA is hailing the speech: "THIS is why Joaquin Phoenix is a star in animals’ eyes," the organization tweeted. "While the entire country was watching, Best Actor winner Joaquin Phoenix took his #Oscars acceptance speech to talk about the cruelty in dairy. #EndSpeciesism."
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