Richard Dreyfuss has criticised the Oscars’ new diversity and inclusion standards, saying “they make me vomit”.
The Jaws actor discussed the Academy’s diversity initiative during an interview with PBS’s Firing Line With Margaret Hoover. The changes, which will come into effect in 2024, will alter the qualifying criteria for the Best Picture category to improve the diversity of its nominees.
“They make me vomit,” Dreyfuss said, when asked his view on the changes. “Because this is an art form. It’s also a form of commerce and it makes money, but it’s an art.
“No one should be telling me as an artist that I have to give in to the latest, most current idea of what morality is. And what are we risking? Are we really risking hurting people’s feelings? You can’t legislate that. You have to let life be life. And I’m sorry, I don’t think that there is a minority or a majority in the country that has to be catered to like that.”
The actor went on to defend the use of blackface by Laurence Olivier for the 1965 film Othello, adding: “He played a Black man brilliantly. Am I being told that I will never have a chance to play a Black man? Is someone else being told that if they’re not Jewish, they shouldn’t play the Merchant of Venice? Are we crazy? Do we not know that art is art?
“This is so patronising. It’s so thoughtless and treating people like children.”
According to the Academy’s new requirements, potential Best Picture nominees from 2024 must meet two of the four “standards” to be deemed eligible.
These include having at least one lead character be from “an underrepresented racial or ethnic group”, at least 30 per cent of all actors in the cast be from at least two underrepresented groups (including women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ people or those with disabilities), or having the film’s main storyline be centred on one of those groups.
Speaking to Sky News, Oscars president Janet Yang defended the decision. “It’s finding the right balance,” Yang said. “So, we want rules that make sense, that keep people kind of on your toes about it, but not telling people what to make.”
Along with Jaws, Dreyfuss is best known for roles in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, The Goodbye Girl, Stand By Me and American Graffiti.