Quickwrites Based on Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar Acceptance Speech – February 9, 2020
SUBJECTS — ELA; Civics;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Justice, Human Rights, GBLTQ, Caring for Animals;
MORALITY-ETHICS — Caring, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Citizenship.
Time Requirements: 5 minutes for the film clip and another ten minutes for the quickwrite; teacher discretion for the length of the discussion.
This is Joaquin Phoenix’s acceptance speech when he was awarded an Oscar for the best performance by an actor in 2019.
TEXT OF THE SPEECH
[Start of speech]
God! I’m full of so much gratitude right now. 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. This form of expression has given me the most extraordinary life. I don’t know what I’d be without it. But I think the greatest gift that it’s given me and many of us in this room is the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless.
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 we’re made to feel that we champion different causes. But for me, I see commonality. 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.
I think that we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world and many of us what we’re guilty of is an egocentric worldview, the belief that we’re the center of the universe. 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.
I think we fear the idea of personal change, because we think that we have to sacrifice 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.
I’ve been a scoundrel in my life. I have been selfish, I’ve been cruel at times, hard to work with, and I’m grateful that so many of you in this room have given me a second chance. 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 towards redemption. That is the best of humanity.
When he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric. He said, “Run to the rescue with love and peace will follow.”
[End of speech]
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
This short speech contains ethical lessons and opportunities for social-emotional learning. It can serve as the basis for several quickwrites and class discussions.
Watch the speech with your children. Discuss any aspect that interests them. A good way to start the process is to ask, “What did you think of Mr. Phoenix’s speech?” Feel free to watch it several times and to discuss different points made by Mr. Phoenix.
Joaquin Phoenix’s brother, River Phoenix, was a talented singer and actor. He was also an environmentalist, an animal rights activist, and a lifelong vegan. In 1993, at the age of 23, River Phoenix died from an accidental drug overdose.
The moral godfather of Mr. Phoenix was Cesar Chavez, whose ethical vision illuminated the commonality of all sentient beings. See TWM’s
Quickwrites are an excellent way to transition students into a period of instruction in class or at home.
This short speech can be used as the basis for a quickwrite at the beginning of several class periods or homeschooling sessions. Show students the film clip the first time. The next time, have them read the speech. The third time, show the film clip again.
Before showing the clip for the first time tell students that this is the speech that Joaquin Phoenix gave when he was awarded the Oscar for best actor at the 2020 Academy Awards for his role in the movie Joker. Also, give students the Helpful Background about River Phoenix.
The following quickwrites are not in any particular order. Use those that you believe are best suited for your class.
Quickwrite # 1:
Describe one of the opinions in Mr. Phoenix’s speech that you agree with and any that you disagree with. Briefly state your reasons.
Quickwrite # 2:
What part of this speech spoke most strongly to you? Explain why.
Quickwrite # 3:
Mr. Phoenix has set out some of the ethical guidelines that govern him in his life. How would you describe the personal ethics that you strive to live by?
Quickwrite # 4:
Mr. Phoenix talks about “distressing issues that we are facing collectively.” What are the issues in society most distressing to you? What do you plan to do about those issues?
Quickwrite # 5:
If you were to sum up one ethical principal that underlies most of what Mr. Phoenix said in his speech, how would you do it? Explain the reasons for your choice. [Note to teachers: There is no one correct response. Good responses include, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”]
If time allows, after each quickwrite have several students read their submission to the class and start a respectful class discussion about what the students have written.
ADDITIONAL DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. Mr. Phoenix said, “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.” What words could you substitute for the word “injustice” and still have the same meaning. [Suggested response: There is no one correct response. Strong responses include: hatred, disrespect, feeling that one group is superior to another. TWM suggests that teachers turn the discussion to, “rejection of the concept of ‘the other'” which underlies what Mr. Phoenix is describing in his speech.]
2. Mr. Phoenix wants to use his voice for the “voiceless.” Who are the most voiceless of all those that Mr. Phoenix is talking about? [Suggested response: non-human sentient beings. In a word, animals.]
OPTIONAL COMPREHENSION TEST FOR USE AFTER SEVERAL QUICKWRITES
Teachers may want to ask comprehension questions that address an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. See CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.1. This test can be given as either “open book” with the text of the speech available to students or they may be required to rely on their memory.
Answer each of the questions in one complete sentence.
1. Why is Mr. Phoenix grateful?
2. What is the common theme that Mr. Phoenix says unites the efforts of people in the room?
3. According to the Mr. Phoenix, what are the consequences of becoming “disconnected from the natural world’?
4. According to Mr. Phoenix, what is it that leads people to exploit other people and sentient beings?
5. What might Mr. Phoenix say to someone who claims that individuals should think only of themselves?
ADDITIONAL ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
Have students write an essay as homework or independent practice on one of the following topics:
1. Write a response to Mr Phoenix, explaining why you agree or disagree with any of the points that he makes in his speech.
2. Mr. Phoenix was clearly presenting lessons from his life in his short acceptance speech. Write a five-minute speech for delivery to the class on one of the following topics:
a. An issue close to my heart . . .
b. If I could spend more time in nature, I would like to . . .;
c. It bothers me when I see others mistreated ….; or
d. An issue that motivates me is . . . .
CCSS ANCHOR STANDARDS:
Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.”) CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.
Anchor Standards #s 1 – 5 and 7 – 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41,& 63.
Speaking and Listening:
Anchor Standards #s 1 – 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.
Not all activities reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.
This Learning Guide was written by James Frieden with assistance from Marcy Winograd and Deborah Elliott. The Guide was last updated on June 11, 2020.