Ricky Gervais, The Guardian mock Joaquin Phoenix over BAFTAs diversity speech

Joaquin Phoenix has been widely celebrated for his BAFTAs speech about racism and white privilege, but he's also copping harsh criticism over it.

Comedian Ricky Gervais and The Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore have both mocked Phoenix for his speech, saying he should not have shown up to the awards at all if he wanted to make a powerful statement.

Phoenix won Best Actor for his lead role in comic book movie The Joker at the UK awards show on Sunday (local time), but used his speech to address the "systemic racism" which meant only white people were nominated in all acting categories.

"I feel conflicted because so many of my fellow actors that are deserving don't have that same privilege. I think that we send a very clear message to people of colour that you're not welcome here," Phoenix said onstage at the Royal Albert Hall.

"I don't think anybody wants a handout or preferential treatment, although that's what we give ourselves every year. I think people just want to be acknowledged, appreciated and respected for their work."

On Twitter, Phoenix has been enthusiastically cheered for his remarks, particularly by people of colour in the film industry - but not everyone's a fan.

Gervais took to Twitter to sarcastically congratulate Phoenix, without naming him.

"Very proud of all these actors calling out the lack of diversity at award shows. I bet if they'd have known the nominations in advance they wouldn't have even turned up in the hope of winning themselves," the Office star said.

In Moore's column, entitled 'Great speech, Joaquin - but you should have just boycotted the BAFTAs', she says he was right to attack systemic racism, but wrong to collect the award.

"No one needs another gong that badly, do they? Step aside. Yes, really - you play your part in the unfair contest by being the star turn," she writes.

"Just as some men refuse to be on panels where there are no women involved, in this type of situation, where the lack of diversity was signalled in advance, you can just not show up."

Phoenix attempted to deflect criticism during his speech by acknowledging his own role in what he was calling out.

"This is not a self-righteous condemnation because I'm ashamed to say that I'm part of the problem," he said.

"I have not done everything in my power to ensure that the sets I work on are inclusive, but I think it's more than just having sets that are multicultural. 

"We have to do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism. I think it is the obligation of the people that have created and perpetuate and benefit from a system of oppression to be the ones that dismantle it. So that's on us."

Among those celebrating Phoenix's speech on Twitter are Suicide Squad star Viola Davis, The Farewell director Lulu Wang, The Black List founder Franklin Leonard, journalist Jamil Smith, and critic Jacqueline Coley, while Ava DuVernay simply retweeted the video without comment.

Far-right US opinion and news website Breitbart also published a column attacking Phoenix for the speech.

The outlet, formerly run by Steve Bannon before he became chief executive of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, had writer James Delingpole echo Gervais and Moore's argument.

"OK, white privilege boy. Why then, did you still accept your totally unmerited award for Best Leading Actor in The Joker?" rages Delingpole.

"Surely, the right, the only decent thing to have done, would have been to trawl your memory bank for all the incredible, knock-out movies you've seen in the last year with stand-out performances by black male leads - then hand your award to one of them, instead?

"Or did you, maybe, not see any such movies?"

Delingpole goes on to label "this 'diversity' and 'equality' nonsense" as "jarring, insincere, formulaic, unrealistic, relentless, stupid and fake".

Phoenix is the odds-on favourite to win Best Actor at the 2020 Oscars, which will be handed out at a ceremony in Los Angeles on Monday (NZT).