Why Joaquin Phoenix wearing one tuxedo all awards season doesn't make him a hero

While the actor's move to reduce waste is applaudable, it does not make him a pinnacle of sacrifice

US actor Joaquin Phoenix poses with his award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama as he attends the 21st Annual InStyle And Warner Bros. Pictures Golden Globe After-Party in Beverly Hills, California on January 5, 2020. / AFP / Jean-Baptiste LACROIX
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When actor Joaquin Phoenix won a Golden Globe on Sunday night for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture for the film Joker, he used his acceptance speech to address animals rights and the effect of wasteful habits on the planet.

A life-long vegan, Phoenix has always been vocal about environmental issues, so he started by praising the award ceremony for serving a plant-based meal for the first time and then scolded his fellow actors for using too many private planes.

"It’s great to vote but sometimes we have to take that responsibility on ourselves and make changes and sacrifices in our own lives. I hope that we can do that," he said on stage.

Phoenix later declared that to help reduce waste, he would henceforth wear the same suit to every award ceremony for the rest of the year.

The outfit in question is a custom-made suit by designer Stella McCartney, who is also famous for her environmental position and refuses to use animal products in her clothing.

Clearly eager to lend support, the designer took to Twitter to praise Phoenix. "This man is a winner ... wearing custom Stella because he chooses to make choices for the future of the planet," she said. "He has also chosen to wear this same tux for the entire award season to reduce waste. I am proud to join forces with you."

And that’s when things started to go wrong.

Twitter lit up in outrage at McCartney's wording, with one user responding: "I wore the same boots throughout all of Desert Storm working on the flight deck of the USS Saratoga! I realise now just how gauche that was."

Another quipped: “The humanity ... the same tux for the entire awards season ... *wiping the tears from my eyes*."

Replying to Phoenix’s request that actors dial back their use of private planes, another Twitter user said: “What an amazing sacrifice, first the request to not constantly use private jets and now this.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I must now point out that I too am a vegan, am pro-environment, and even rewear clothes once in a while. Does that make me a hero? Of course it doesn’t.

US actor Joaquin Phoenix arrives for the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards on January 5, 2020, at The Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, California.  / AFP / VALERIE MACON
Joaquin Phoenix in his Stella McCartney suit at the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards on January 5, 2020. AFP

It’s what we all do, every day, because unlike actors, we are not given free outfits by famous designers. As admirable as it is for Phoenix to try to lead by example in an industry that thrives on new red carpet looks, being treated like a hero for it is laughable. What was McCartney thinking?

As we have watched fires burn unchecked across the Arctic, the Amazon and now Australia, we are all beginning to face up to the uncomfortable truth that we are all in part responsible, and must change our wasteful behaviour if the planet is to survive. But that does not make any of us a hero. That title is saved for the selfless souls who risk everything to battle the flames we have all helped light.

They are the only heroes in this debate. Not an overpaid actor in a free suit.