During the star-studded Golden Globes ceremony on January 5, 2020, all eyes were on the attendees as fans tried to catch their favorite actors in unguarded moments. And when Joaquin Phoenix picked up an award for his performance in the film Joker, his behavior certainly grabbed the headlines. But then there was something else that didn’t escape people’s notice: one celebrity in the audience appeared to snub Phoenix during his standing ovation. So, which famous name decided to sit the moment out, and why?
In all, Joker had racked up four Golden Globe nominations for Best Drama, Best Director, Best Original Score and Best Actor. And the comic-book based crime story ultimately emerged victorious in those last two categories, with Hildur Guðnadóttir taking home the award for the film’s music. Phoenix, meanwhile, beat Adam Driver, Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Pryce and Christian Bale to his prize.
In fact, Joker was a big favorite throughout the awards season, as was Phoenix’s performance as the title character. The movie garnered an impressive 11 nominations at the Oscars, for instance, as well as another 11 at the British Academy Film Awards. The flick even received the Golden Lion award at the Venice International Film Festival.
However, Joker has also become a lightning rod for controversy. That’s perhaps not surprising, either, as the movie delves deep into the mind of an individual who commits some unpleasant crimes. Many commentators thought that Joker was too violent, for instance, or too sympathetic in its portrayal of its murderous main character.
Compounding this argument was a terrible incident that took place back in Aurora, Colorado in 2012. In that year, a mass shooting occurred inside a movie theater during a screening of the Batman film The Dark Knight Rises. And at the time, there were reports and rumors that the shooter had modeled himself on the Joker.
In addition, some of the families who had lost loved ones during the Aurora shooting were to speak out against Joker. In a letter sent to distributor Warner Bros. in 2019, the group collectively said that the movie’s “sympathetic origin story… gave [them] pause.” And while the relatives of the victims didn’t actually want Joker pulled, they nevertheless requested that Warner Bros. “join [them] in our fight to build safer communities with fewer guns.”
Soon after, Warner Bros. released a statement saying that it believed “one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues.” The company went on, “Make no mistake: neither the fictional character Joker nor the film is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind. It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.”
And it appeared that Joker’s director, Todd Phillips, had similar thoughts on the matter. During an interview with the Associated Press, for instance, he was asked whether he understood people’s concerns and answered, “I mean, I think that Aurora is obviously a horrible, horrible situation, but even that is not something you blame on the movie.”
The filmmaker went on, “Quite frankly, if you do your own research about Aurora, that gentleman [the shooter] wasn’t even going in as Joker. That was misreported; his hair was dyed red. He was having, obviously, a mental breakdown, and there’s something horrifying about that, but it wasn’t related to it outside of the fact that it happened at a movie theater.”
Instead, Phillips insisted, “This is not the thing that the movie is trying to represent. The movie still takes place in a fictional world. It can have real-world implications, options, but it’s a fictional character in a fictional world that’s been around for 80 years.” He also claimed that Joker was “held to different standards” than other violent action flicks.
But the issue didn’t completely go away. Owing to these concerns, Joker was not played at the Aurora theater that had been the location of the shooting. The Los Angeles and New York City Police Departments also increased security around venues screening the movie, while even the Army allegedly received memos about the possibility of Joker causing disorder.
Yet despite all the controversy, Joker was a big hit. Yes, although critics gave it mixed reviews – many of them taking issue with the anarchy depicted – audiences loved it. And the stairs in The Bronx where the Joker is seen dancing in the film went on to become a popular destination for fans.
Phoenix also talked about the movie’s impact when speaking to the Los Angeles Times in November 2019. There, he said, “It’s not the box office but the reception [to Joker] that’s been vindicating. It’s the fact that I get emails from people telling me that the movie made them look at their sister who suffers from schizophrenia in a different light.”
Phoenix went on to explain to the newspaper, “Ultimately, the movie is about the power of kindness and the lack of empathy in the world, and the audience seems to have picked up on that. It’s amazing that a movie that was supposed to inspire, as they put it, mass mayhem really has just inspired a bunch of people dancing down staircases. I think that speaks more to our times than anything.”
However, at the Golden Globes ceremony, it almost seemed as though Phoenix wanted people’s attention on anything other than Joker. For starters, he chose to give his fiancée, Rooney Mara, her own solo moment in the spotlight – even though the Carol star wasn’t nominated for anything herself. And some of Phoenix’s antics may have been a little bit awkward for anyone watching on.
Phoenix and Mara have actually been together since at least 2017, although they have kept their relationship pretty low-key. The pair initially encountered each other while shooting the movie Her – in which Mara played the ex-wife of Phoenix’s character. Then, in 2016, both were in Mary Magdalene, with Mara as the eponymous lead and Phoenix portraying Jesus.
In 2017, meanwhile, the stars were spotted sitting together and holding hands at Cannes. In fact, they even went in for a bit of hugging when Phoenix won the Best Actor award for You Were Never Really Here. Then, later that year, Phoenix revealed to The New York Times that he and Mara had moved in together. And in 2019, the couple were engaged.
Fast-forward to the 2020 Golden Globes, then, and Phoenix was caught on camera behaving adorably with Mara. At one point, he backed away from his fiancée on the red carpet and made an “awestruck” face, covering his mouth and smiling. And as soon as Mara noticed what Phoenix was doing, she smiled back.
However, that wasn’t what ultimately won Phoenix the most headlines that night. No, it was everything else that happened after he was called up to receive his Best Actor award. While on stage, you see, Phoenix delivered a rambling, rather odd acceptance speech that earned him plenty of attention on Twitter.
First, Phoenix praised the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for serving only plant-based food at the ceremony – a historical first. The actor mentioned “the link between animal agriculture and climate change” before saying, “It’s a very bold move making tonight plant-based, and it really sends a powerful message.”
Then things went slightly weird – and sweary. Phoenix went on to declare, “To my fellow nominees, we all know there’s no f**king competition between us. It’s like this thing that is created to sell advertisements for the TV show. I’m inspired by you… Some of you I’ve reached out to personally. Some, uh, I’m still a little too intimidated by – even though we share the same agent. Hi, Christian [Bale]. You’re not here, but uh…”
An attempted shout-out to Mara, who was sitting in the audience, may have left onlookers feeling a little bemused, too. After Phoenix called her name, you see, there was a small period of complete silence. Apparently, though, it transpired that the actor had actually muttered “love you” and that the microphones hadn’t picked it up.
Then Phoenix turned his attention to an important issue: the Australian bushfires. He said, “It’s really nice that so many people have sent their well-wishes to Australia, but we have to do more than that… Sometimes we have to take that responsibility on ourselves and make changes and sacrifices in our own lives. We don’t have to take private jets to Palm Springs for the awards.”
And the actor is practicing what he preaches, too. For starters, Phoenix sported a Stella McCartney tuxedo at the Golden Globes – the McCartney brand being one that doesn’t use animal products such as leather or fur. What’s more, he planned to wear the same tux throughout the whole awards season in order to reduce waste.
In any case, Twitter had a rather mixed reaction to the Joker actor’s speech. One person snappily wrote, for instance, “Listening to Joaquin Phoenix’s speech has turned into an impromptu game of MadLibs.” What’s more, users of the social media platform suddenly noticed that something else had happened while Phoenix went up to collect his award.
Although almost everyone had stood up to give Phoenix a standing ovation, one person notably hadn’t. Yes, Beyoncé, who was nominated for her The Lion King song “Spirit,” had remained firmly in her seat, clapping but not rising to her feet. Was there something she was trying to say about Phoenix – or even Hollywood, for that matter?
Well, as soon as people noticed this, the internet went wild with speculation about why the singer hadn’t stood up. Some Twitter users went so far as to criticize Beyoncé for being rude. And one individual even tweeted directly at Beyoncé herself, saying, “You’re a joke for not standing up for Joaquin Phoenix… You ought to apologize to him.”
Another person wrote, “It makes her look bad TBH. And I’m a Beyoncé fan. I thought it was because her dress would have blocked others’ view and she was being courteous.” Now, they may have been correct in that assumption, as others also suggested that Beyoncé’s chosen outfit was difficult to wear.
A third Twitter user said, for example, “Just putting it out there. MAYBE Beyoncé didn’t stand during Joaquin Phoenix’s standing ovation because her dress was massive & would have been a pain to get out of her chair with and then gather it to sit down again. Just a thought. Maybe it wasn’t a statement.”
And Beyoncé’s dress for the ceremony did seem a slightly impractical one. The gown in question was custom-made Schiaparelli haute couture and featured not only massive puffy gold sleeves but also a train at the back. Oh, and she was also wearing at least $8 million in diamonds.
So, taking this into consideration, it’s perhaps understandable that Beyoncé didn’t want to stand up. There was a possibility, after all, that the huge dress sleeves may have blocked the camera and so taken the moment away from Phoenix. Other Twitter users pointed this out, too, and noted that the star did both smile and applaud the Joker actor.
However, some other commentators were just annoyed that the whole thing had blown up so much. Another individual on Twitter wrote, “Joaquin Phoenix just did a speech about global warming and how celebrities should start doing changes themselves personally instead of putting the responsibility in other people and then clean their hands. But somehow Beyoncé not giving him a standing ovation is more important.”
Yet that wasn’t the end of the drama. You see, Phoenix himself was also slammed by Twitter users for being rude. Upon walking into the press room, the actor had greeted the journalists present and then said, “I didn’t know that I was coming up here just now. They f**king tricked me.”
After that, one of the members of the media asked Phoenix how he prepared for the role of the Joker. And although on the surface this didn’t seem to be an unreasonable question, the A-lister didn’t seem to appreciate it much. He responded, “Isn’t this old news? I feel like I’ve talked about this for six months. You wanna hear a different version of it?”
And while social media may not have been impressed by Beyoncé’s apparent snub of Phoenix, it was apparently even less fond of Phoenix’s sharp attitude. One individual on Twitter wrote, for instance, “I have always been a Joaquin fan, but that’s trash. There is absolutely no reason to be that rude.”
Some defended Phoenix, however. Another Twitter user wrote, “I mean, wouldn’t you be a little bit bored if everyone kept asking you the same question over and over again? Joaquin is just honest, and some people take that the wrong way. I totally understand how he can come across as rude, but I think he’s just tired of the same old questions.”
A further person also claimed that Phoenix had anxiety and “doesn’t like public speaking… He’s not a rude person; he gets nervous and uncomfortable when he has to speak.” And this may be true, as in a 2012 Interview magazine piece the actor discussed how anxious he got on movie sets.
As debate raged on Twitter, though, Beyoncé and her husband, Jay-Z, partied with their fellow stars. The couple were apparently generous, too. Supposedly, when Reese Witherspoon ran out of water on her table, the stars simply sent their own Armand de Brignac champagne over to her.
And if reports are to be believed, Bey and Jay even went above and beyond for Witherspoon. Days after the ceremony, the actress claimed that the musicians had sent her a whole box of the Armand de Brignac – which arrived with a note that said, “More water.”
So, although there was a lot of drama at the Golden Globes, everyone may have gone home happy. And while it appeared that Phoenix and Beyoncé had indirectly crossed swords, neither appeared to take the bait on social media. Yes, there hasn’t exactly been any follow-up to the pop star’s so-called “lack of respect.” In any case, Phoenix is unlikely to remember the incident – especially if he keeps clocking up the awards.