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Richard Dreyfuss Says It's "Crazy" That He Will "Never Have a Chance to Play a Black Man"

The actor also revealed in a new interview that the Oscars' new diversity rules disgust him.

The film industry has changed over the years as more focus has been put on sensitive, appropriate casting and on diversity both in front of and behind the camera. But not everyone is happy about this progress, and that includes 75-year-old actor Richard Dreyfuss. Ahead of next year's Oscars, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has put some new requirements into place for potential Best Picture nominees. In a new interview, the Jaws star said the Academy's new standards for inclusion "make [him] vomit." He also railed against the fact that it's become frowned upon for actors to play characters of different races, declaring that he should be allowed to play a Black character. Read on to find out more.

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The new Academy rules encourage inclusivity and diversity.

People holding Oscar awards in 2017
Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock

The Academy announced the new Best Picture eligibility rules in 2020, explaining that they would be enforced first for the 2024 awards show. As reported by Entertainment Weekly, for a film to be nominated for Best Picture, it has to meet two out of four standards, all of which have their own requirements.

The four standards cover onscreen representation, behind-the-scenes representation, industry access and opportunities, and marketing/publicity. For example, the onscreen standard involves the actors who are cast and the story told in the film, while the access and opportunities standard involves development opportunities like internship opportunities and training for crew members.

"The aperture must widen to reflect our diverse global population in both the creation of motion pictures and in the audiences who connect with them," Academy president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson said in a press release at the time. "The Academy is committed to playing a vital role in helping make this a reality. We believe these inclusion standards will be a catalyst for long-lasting, essential change in our industry."

Dreyfuss said the Academy's new standards are "catering to" minorities.

During a May 5 interview on PBS' Firing Line with Margaret Hoover, Dreyfuss was asked about the new Best Picture requirements. "They make me vomit," the star said in response.

He went on to claim that the rules are an attempt to control and censor art.

"This is an art form," the 75-year-old said. "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 there is a minority or majority in the country that has to be catered to like that."

He thinks he should be allowed to play a Black man.

Richard Dreyfuss at the premiere of "Sweetwater" in April 2023
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Dreyfuss went on to register his offense that blackface and actors playing characters outside of their own race have fallen out of favor in Hollywood.

"You know, Laurence Olivier was the last white actor to play Othello. And he did it in 1965, and he did it in blackface, and he played a Black man brilliantly," Dreyfuss said. "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?"

Circling back to the Oscar requirements, he added, "This is so patronizing. It's so thoughtless and treating people like children."

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He didn't walk back his comments.

Richard Dreyfuss at the American Film Institute 44th Life Achievement Award Gala Tribute to John Williams in 2016
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Host Margaret Hoover asked Dreyfuss if he saw a difference between "the question of representation and who is allowed to represent other groups" and blackface, "explicitly in this country, given the history of slavery and the sensitivity around [anti-]Black racism."

"There shouldn't be," he responded. "Because it's patronizing. Because it says that we're so fragile that we can't have our feelings hurt. We have to anticipate having our feelings hurt, our children's feelings hurt. We don't know how to stand up and bop the bully in the face."

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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