In SAG Awards speech, Barbra Streisand recalls those who fled prejudice to build Hollywood

Barbra Streisand accepts a life achievement award Saturday at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles.
Barbra Streisand accepts the Life Achievement Award at the 30th Screen Actors Guild Awards on Saturday in L.A. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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Barbra Streisand received a career-spanning honor Saturday at the 30th Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Jennifer Aniston and Bradley Cooper paid tribute to Streisand's talent and her impact on and off the screen before presenting the acclaimed actor and director with the SAG Life Achievement Award at the ceremony, held at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium and streamed live on Netflix,

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Streisand, a SAG-AFTRA member for more than 60 years, recalled those who fled prejudice to build Hollywood.

"It's really a privilege to be part of this profession. For a couple of hours, people can sit in a theater and escape their own troubles," Streisand said. "What an idea, moving pictures on a screen, and I can't help but think back to the people who built this industry. Ironically, they were also escaping their own troubles."

Listing Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer and the Warner brothers, Streisand continued, "They were all escaping the prejudice they faced in Eastern Europe, simply because of their religion. And they were dreamers too, like all of us here tonight. And now I dream of a world where such prejudice is a thing of the past."

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The SAG Life Achievement Award is given annually to a performer who fosters the "finest ideals of the acting profession." Previous recipients include Sally Field, Helen Mirren, Robert De Niro, Alan Alda, Morgan Freeman, Lily Tomlin and Carol Burnett.

"Barbra Streisand is an icon and unparalleled talent, a force of nature who has seamlessly woven her brilliance through the fabric of our industry," said SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher when the honor was announced. "From her earliest days captivating audiences on Broadway to her unforgettable roles in cinematic classics like 'Funny Girl,' 'The Way We Were' and 'A Star Is Born,' Barbra's ability to inhabit her characters with authenticity is nothing short of extraordinary.

“Her enduring career is a testament to her genuine performances, connecting with audiences on a profound level. She is a colossal icon with a relentless work ethic, evolving with each stage of her remarkable journey. We celebrate Barbra Streisand not just for her achievements but for the enduring legacy she has carved.”

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Earlier this week, Streisand opened up in an interview with The Times about the first time she realized she wanted to become an actor.

"It was when I first saw Marlon Brando when I was 13," she said. "I had to become an actress, there was no turning back. Acting has to be a passion that you can’t ignore. It’s like a calling. If it’s just a simple decision like between one career and another, forget it. You have to be strong enough to take the kind of rejection actors get. ... And as far as me acting again is concerned, I’ll never say never again."

Though Streisand notoriously hates attending award shows, she also told The Times why she's attending this year's SAG Awards. "I’m attending this award show because they told me in advance that I got the award! No trauma or drama," she explained. "And I’m very proud to be a member of SAG since 1961. I also like the fact that Fran Drescher and so many actors marched and worked very hard to get what they campaigned for."

Streisand added that it was all meant to be: "The numbers were right — my lucky number is 24. The number 2 and the number 4, and this award falls on 2-24-24."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.