Hollywood star Richard Dreyfuss, an Academy Award–winning actor best known for his role in the Jaws, said in an interview that the new diversity rules imposed by the Oscars for films to be eligible for the “Best Picture” award “make me vomit.”
“They make me vomit,” Dreyfuss told Margaret Hoover on Firing Line which aired Friday night on PBS. “This is an art form. 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.”
New policies enacted by the Oscrars in 2024 will see film award eligibility dependent upon meeting two of four stipulated diversity benchmarks. One, for instance, mandates a third of a movie cast must be comprised of “an underrepresented group.”
“It’s finding the right balance. So, we want rules that make sense, that keep people kind of on your toes about it, but not telling people what to make,” the film producer and Academy President Janet Yang told Sky News in March.
Still, Yang maintained that the proposed equity measures would not disqualify any previous nomination which dates as far back as 1929. “We did find that, given these new guidelines all the past nominations would still qualify.”
During the conversation, Dreyfuss praised Laurence Olivier’s performance of “Othello” performed in blackface in 1965. “Am I being told that I will never have a chance to play a Black man?” Dreyfuss asked rhetorically. “Are we crazy? Do we not know that art is art?”
Hoover pushed Dreyfuss, challenging him to clarify whether people of another race should be allowed to represent groups they do not belong to.
“Do you think there’s a difference between the question of…who is allowed to represent other groups…and the case of blackface explicitly in this country given the history of slavery and the sensitivities around Black racism?” the journalist followed up.
“There shouldn’t be,” Dreyfus responded. “Because it’s patronizing.”
The actor also discussed his decades-long commitment to improving civics education. In 2006, the star created the Dreyfuss Civics Initiative aimed at revitalizing national awareness of government and politics.
“I think we’re in the endgame right now,” he told PBS. “We could let slip the greatest idea for governance ever devised, and we won’t even know that it happened.”
“I still can’t really wrap my head around the fact that people confuse being exposed to an opposing view on any subject with being a traitor or with being a subversive.”
His comments come on the heels of scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a standardized test referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card” released on Wednesday, showing a worrying drop in civics knowledge for the average eighth-grader to the lowest point since they were first administered in 1998.
Senior administrators in the White House have sought to cast Republican state governments and the pandemic as culprits for the drop in test scores. “The latest data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress further affirms the profound impact the pandemic had on student learning in subjects beyond math and reading,” Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona noted in an official statement.