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Richard Dreyfuss slams film academy’s diversity efforts

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is ready to change its approach to representation and inclusion among Oscar nominees, but Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss is clearly not a fan.

Dreyfuss, who won his first leading-man Oscar in 1978 for “The Goodbye Girl,” slammed the academy for its diversity measures in an interview for PBS’ “Firing Line with Margaret Hoover,” shared Friday.

“They make me vomit,” Dreyfuss told Hoover.

Amid social unrest in 2020, the academy announced that it would seek to increase representation in the organization’s governance, membership and workplace culture, as well as in the films nominated for Oscars. Starting with the 2024 Oscars, eligible films will need to meet several criteria — outlined by the academy — concerning diversity on screen and behind the camera.

To be eligible for best picture, a film must meet at least two standards across four categories: “Onscreen Representation, Themes and Narratives,” “Creative Leadership and Project Team,” “Industry Access and Opportunities” and “Audience Development.” Within each category are various criteria involving the inclusion of people in underrepresented groups, including women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people and those with cognitive or physical disabilities. Other Oscar categories will not be held to these same standards.

The rule change will be implemented years after the annual awards show was embroiled in the 2015 #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which called out the governing body for overlooking Black artists and other artists of color.

Dreyfuss said Friday, “No one should be telling me as an artist that I have to give into the latest, most current idea of what morality is.”

He continued: “And what are we risking? Are we really risking hurting people’s feelings? You can’t legislate that. And you have to let life be life. I’m sorry, I don’t think there’s a minority or a majority in the country that has to be catered to like that.”

Objecting to the academy’s efforts, Dreyfuss cited white English actor Laurence Olivier, who was in blackface for his Oscar-nominated performance in 1965’s “Othello.”

“Am I being told that I will never have a chance to to play a Black man?,” asked Dreyfuss, who is also white. “Is someone else being told that if they’re not Jewish, they shouldn’t play the Merchant of Venice?”

Dreyfuss argued that the efforts defeat the art of acting and filmmaking and imply that “we’re so fragile that we can’t have our feelings hurt.”

“We don’t know how to stand up and bop the bully in the face,” he said.

Dreyfuss may not be a fan of the Oscars’ new diversity requirements, but the annual awards show already has seen gradual change among its honorees.

A study from USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative found that nominations among underrepresented racial or ethnic groups and women increased after 2015. At this year’s ceremony, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” made Oscars history with Michelle Yeoh as the first Asian performer to win the lead actress trophy, but Black performers were shut out entirely from the acting categories.

“We can also celebrate the incremental progress being made, while giving a stern side-eye to the fact that we are still acknowledging ‘firsts’ in 2023,” #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign tweeted in January. “There is no magic bullet. But it is apparent that certain orgs are still unwilling to make necessary changes. One must ask why.”

Times staff writer Josh Rottenberg contributed to this report.

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