While appearing as a guest on PBS’ The Firing Line, the new criteria by the Academy Awards for eligibility for Best Picture come 2024 came up for discussion by the host, Margaret Hoover. Nominated films are required to meet four benchmarks: 30% of the cast and 30% of the crew must be from an under-represented group are two of the criteria needed. Dreyfuss stated, “They make me vomit.”
When asked why, the Jaws actor replied: “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.” He then went on to add: “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.”
Dreyfuss then praised Sir Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of the tragic Shakespearean hero Othello – while in blackface – in the 1965 film adaptation of the play. “He played a Black man brilliantly,” the 75-year-old told Hoover. “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?”
Hoover responded with a query: “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?” To that, Dreyfuss replied, “There shouldn’t be…. Because it’s patronizing. Because it says 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.”
Dreyfuss’ defense of blackface seems on-brand given his previous role in the 1986 film Moon over Parador. The interview follows another moment of questionable thinking for the Close Encounters of the Third Kind actor where he slipped off a chair while being interviewed in April by late-night host Bill Maher for his Club Random podcast. Watch the full interview below.