ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
Posted on February 20 2020
This is not the secret club of J K Rowling’s Harry Potter, but it would not be inappropriate to call this man a leader in one of society’s quickest growing clubs.
Joaquin Phoenix, American actor and activist, received the Oscar for ‘Best Actor’ on Sunday for his enthralling performance as the titular character of Joker. While the white-washing of this year’s awards season was difficult to digest considering the stand-out performances of many non-white actors (from Parasite to Queen & Slim), Hollywood’s self-disgust was palpable in the award ceremony’s proceedings. Actors and presenters alike took the award season as an opportunity to speak to the injustices this billion-dollar creative industry perpetuates. As Phoenix remarked on the evening, many winners used their acceptance speech as a platform to “use our voice for the voiceless”. However, the night’s most memorable speech came at the hands of Phoenix, advocating for ‘unity’ in our fight against injustices. Here is why Phoenix’s speech matters:
- “We’re talking about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender, one species, has the right to dominate, use and control another with impunity.”
— Joaquin Phoenix.
In a speech about privilege, Joaquin Phoenix has been criticised for being somewhat hypercritical; a white, CIS, male, rich and famous actor preaching on issues of oppression when it is clear he is not a victim of the world’s biases. It is a fair enough criticism as we need to be hearing many more indigenous voices and other voices of those rejected by whiteness and the patriarchal order. However, for a man who represents so much of the problem, he has such empathy and understanding for these injustices, a consequence of his vegan mindset and lifestyle. Joaquin Phoenix used his platform to honour everyone’s fight. We treat our Earth as though it owes us, and we apply the same philosophy onto every other organism until we reach the ‘White Man’. If Vegan-ism and animal-rights politics can lead you on a path that does not individually serve you, but rather betters the world, then it is hard to argue with its importance.
- “I think we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world.”
The entertainment industry itself is an exorbitant contributor to waste; a constant supply of plastic water bottles, leftover and wasted foods, temporary sets, excess, luxury, transport, air travel, energy for lights and tech etc. Films, television and other visual artistries reflect and inform our world and they are therefore the perfect space to incite change. Phoenix spoke to a room of creatives on our disconnect from the natural world, alluding to our emphasis on fame, consumerism, money, possessions and success — all of which distance us from the necessities of our existence and beauty of our earth. These actors, writers, directors and producers have the ability to change the narrative; we can evolve beyond the male gaze of past cinema. Perhaps this allusive opposite that we are searching for — a cinematic and social gaze that chooses not to exploit bodies and minds against their will, one that searches for unity rather than difference, a gaze that is inclusive and curious rather than subjective and judgemental — can be found in the rearrangement of our anthropocentric view. If we started letting Mother Nature be our storyteller, if everyone was a player on her stage, the one she lets us borrow but that we must return in perfect condition, maybe then cinema could be a guide in how we must now see the world and its inhabitants. When Joaquin Phoenix raised the issue of the way in which our species destroys and limits others, he was validating all the other injustices our heroes and movie stars claim to champion.
- “Many of us are guilty of an egocentric world view.”
Our society thrives in its anthropocentric value system; this notion that humans are the centre of the world and thus take priority to any other inhabitants. It is a hierarchy that ensures privilege and power, the two most detrimental experiences that inhibit the opportunity for world-wide equality. If we could alter our thinking outwards and away from self-serving inward concerns, humanity could be united in its fight to protect and preserve the Earth around us; two ‘P’ words that offer a prosperous, prospective future.
However, removing ourselves from the centre of the narrative is challenging for one to conqueror alone, and thus, Phoenix has presented this possibility to a room of dreamers. Imaginations we pay to look inside and experience for 2 hours or for many episodes on end. This change lies so heavily in the art that can move us, shake us and showcase Mother Earth.
- “We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakeable. Then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal”.
Both Joaquin Phoenix and his fiancé Rooney Mara are outspoken vegans, and thus, too many, his Oscar speech came as no surprise. However, what was different and so engaging about this comment was its connection to the speeches overriding theme of privilege. In the same way that no man should have the right to expect or plunder a woman’s natural resources, nor should we expect access to an animal’s body. The tiny enjoyment and convenience of cow’s milk in our coffee, causes such dire and inexplicable trauma for a mothering cow. It is not that we need cow’s milk, particularly when oat milk is so creamy and sustainable, but rather that we believe we deserve it. It is ours for the taking.
What Phoenix and his club of vegans understand is nothing was ours to begin with. This is the new order of the Phoenix; it speaks for female bodies, Indigenous bodies, people of colour, LGBTQIA+, non-abled bodies and the bodies of all other animals. It speaks for equality. It is a wonderful day to be a vegan.
SUBSTITUTION OF THE WEEK: sub out ‘eat vegan’ for ‘think vegan’.