Joaquin Phoenix — Another Privileged Actor Missing the Point

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Ricky Gervais was right when he said that actors, “know nothing of the real world.”

Gervais had warned celebrities against political speeches after a number of them spoke out at the Oscars this month, saying that the comments to “everyday, hard-working people” at Hollywood awards shows usually backfire.

People praised Joaquin Phoenix for his speech at the 92nd Oscars Awards show where he completely dismissed his role as a person with severe psychosis, depression and narcissistic behavior. Phoenix’s speech was the wrong time and place and a truly missed opportunity. While I never agree with animals being hurt and mistreated for our benefit I was pissed off by his blatant ignoring of the sad and mistreated character he played.

I had hoped from the beginning, the filmmakers owned up to the fragility of the subject and dispelled the very mental health stigma that it exacerbates. One of the many questions that came up for me — does art have a responsibility to the public? Perhaps not but when the actors who use the award acceptance speeches as a platform, I cannot look away. Portrayals like the one in this film spread misconceptions, unfounded stereotypes and misinformation.

“One of the more toxic ideas that Joker subscribes to is the hackneyed association between serious mental illness and extreme violence. The notion that mental deterioration necessarily leads to violence against others — implied by the juxtaposition of Phoenix’s character Arthur stopping his medication with his increasingly frequent acts of violence — is not only misinformed but further amplifies stigma and fear.” — The Guardian

There is a biological basis for why people have mental illness whether it be bipolar or schizophrenia or depression. Most people with psychosis are victims of violence themselves, not the other way around. Approximately, 1 in 3 people will be impacted by psychosis every year and there needs to be more understanding of this illness. It doesn’t always go away and it can be treated.

This is all the basis for my severe disappointment in Joaquin’s speech. If actors can use their platforms for spreading love, decency, and politics I believe they need to be responsible as the art they portray. If they want us to listen to their claims of bringing people together for the greater good then they need to own up to the work and its impact it has on regular people.

The homeless are being incarcerated for living on the streets with mental health illnesses. They are thrown in jail and beaten for being sick and not getting treatment. Our prisons are filled with people who are mentally ill and should be in residential humane treatment centers.

Phoenix lives in L.A. one of the major cities with a homeless — mental health crisis and he ignores it? Are his sunglasses that thick?

Myths and Facts about mental health from mentalhealth.gov:

  1. MYTH — People with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable.

Fact: The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don’t even realize it, because many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of our communities.

2. MYTH — People with mental health needs, even those who are managing their mental illness, cannot tolerate the stress of holding down a job.

Fact: People with mental health problems are just as productive as other employees. Employers who hire people with mental health problems report good attendance and punctuality as well as motivation, good work, and job tenure on par with or greater than other employees.

When employees with mental health problems receive effective treatment, it can result in:

  • Lower total medical costs
  • Increased productivity
  • Lower absenteeism
  • Decreased disability costs

3. MYTH — Personality weakness or character flaws cause mental health problems. People with mental health problems can snap out of it if they try hard enough.

Fact: Mental health problems have nothing to do with being lazy or weak and many people need help to get better. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:

  • Biological factors, such as genes, physical illness, injury, or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems

People with mental health problems can get better and many recover completely. For more information on psychosis visit NAMI — https://www.nami.org/earlypsychosis

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