Joaquin Phoenix pays tribute to River, pleads for animal rights in Oscars speech: 'We've become disconnected from the natural world'

Joaquin Phoenix took home the Oscar for Best Actor on Sunday night for his powerful portrayal, in Joker, of a man finding his way through mental illness and an unforgiving world — and, through his impassioned acceptance speech, took the opportunity to use his voice “for the voiceless,” especially non-humans.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the distressing issues that we are facing, collectively, and I think at times we feel or are made the feel that we champion different causes. But for me, I see commonality,” Phoenix told the crowd. “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. 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.”

From that point, Phoenix — a vocal animal-rights activist and the force behind the Golden Globes opting to serve an all-vegan menu recently — turned a laser focus on some of the philosophies behind veganism, noting that “we’ve become very disconnected [from] the natural world,” and that “we go into the natural world and we plunder it for its resources.”

Joaquin Phoenix arriving with Rooney Mara at the 92nd Oscars on Sunday. (Photo: VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)
Joaquin Phoenix arriving with Rooney Mara at the 92nd Oscars on Sunday. (Photo: VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

Then, he went further: “We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and when she gives birth, then 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.”

Phoenix said he believes that people don’t want give up dairy or make other changes in their habits because “we fear the idea of personal change, because we think that we have to sacrifice something … but human beings, at our best, are so inventive and creative and ingenious, and 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.”

The unprecedented specificity of such comments on such a major stage stopped many in their tracks — particularly fellow animal-rights activists, including PETA, which tweeted “JAW DROP.”

“To see an actor as relevant and groundbreaking as Joaquin Phoenix using these iconic moments to speak up for animals is, to say the least, powerfully moving, refreshing and vital,” Jasmin Singer, co-host of Our Hen House podcast and author of the forthcoming book Fabulous Vegan, tells Yahoo. “In giving ‘voice to the voiceless’ —and pointing out the overlaps between oppressive mindsets — he’s inviting us to evolve for the better as a society. Animal rights needs to be central to that. And that starts with going vegan.”

Phoenix also made a point of humbling himself onstage, pointing out times that he’s not been so angelic.

“Now, I’ve been a scoundrel in my life. I’ve been selfish, I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I’m grateful…,” he said. “So many of you in this room have given me a second chance. And I think that’s where 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, before leaving the stage with his Oscar, a choked-up Phoenix made reference to his late sibling, River, who died of a drug overdose in 1993 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.’”

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