“I’m standing here on the shoulders of my favorite actor,” said Phoenix of Heath Ledger, the first person to win an Oscar for playing the Joker in his role as The Dark Knight.
“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, and this form of expression has given me the most extraordinary life,” he began. “But I think the greatest gift it’s given me, and many of us in the room today, is the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless.”
Phoenix went on to address distressing issues—gender inequality, racism, queer rights, indigenous rights and animal rights—that he feels we are facing against injustice.
“I think, at times, we feel, or were made to feel, that we champion different causes, but for me, I see commonality. 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.”
He also discussed our disconnect from the natural world, saying that many of us are guilty of having an egocentric worldview.
“We go into the natural world, and we plunder it for its resources. We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow, and when she gives birth, we steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. Then, we take her milk, that’s intended for her calf, and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.”
Phoenix said that people are afraid of the “idea of personal change” because it means sacrificing something to give something up.
“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 actor ended the speech by admitting he has been a scoundrel and thanking his fellow actors for giving him a second chance.
“I’ve been selfish. I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with and ungrateful, but so many of you in this room have given me a second chance. 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 community.”
And then, he broke down into tears, ending with a lyric that his brother, River Phoenix, wrote prior to his death in 1993.
“When he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric. It said, ‘Run to the rescue with love, and peace will follow.'”