Barbra Streisand. (photo: Idolator)
Gregg Kilday | The Hollywood Reporter | Reader Supported News | December 12, 2015
The iconic performer (and Sherry Lansing Leadership Award honoree at THR’s annual Women in Entertainment event this morning) reveals how ‘Yentl’ turned her into an activist, why she admires Taylor Swift and how far Hillary has come: “At first she was a bit stiff.”
A version of this story first appeared in the 2015 Women in Entertainment issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
ack in 1983, when Barbra Streisand made Yentl, the first of the three films she has directed, no one in Hollywood was talking about the paucity of female directors and the obstacles they faced. Only one woman, Lina Wertmuller, the Italian director of 1975’s Seven Beauties, ever had been nominated for the best directing Oscar. And while such male stars as Warren Beatty and Robert Redford had moved behind the camera to acclaim, the notion of an actress taking the reins was greeted skeptically by many. While Yentl was received warmly — Roger Ebert praised its “great style and heart”; it grossed $40 million domestic ($95 million today); and it received five Oscar nominations, three of them for its music and songs — Streisand herself was shut out. She was criticized for having demanded too much control over the movie and, at the same time, suspected of having had to turn to established male filmmakers for help. That decades-old charge was recently recycled by Maureen Dowd in her New York Time Magazine article “The Women of Hollywood Speak Out.” Dowd wrote, “Men in Hollywood still joke that Barbra Streisand conferred over each frame of Yentl with everyone from Spielberg to her gardener.” Observing that male directors often routinely show their works-in-progress to each other, Streisand notes, “It seems that only when a woman shows her film to a male director, the assumption is she needs rescuing!”
In any event, Yentl, in which Streisand played a young Jewish woman who masquerades as a boy in order to study the Talmud, played a critical role in the life of the Broadway balladeer turned actress, filmmaker and member of the coveted EGOT club (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). After that film, the Brooklyn-born dynamo became even more involved in politics and social issues. She will be recognized for her career, activism and philanthropy with The Hollywood Reporter’s 2015 Sherry Lansing Leadership Award, to be presented Dec. 9 by Robert Redford. Streisand, 73, who lives in Malibu with her husband of 17 years, James Brolin, now is in the midst of writing a memoir, due in 2017, and was in a reflective mood recently as she looked back on how that film impacted her work and her larger sense of mission. “It all started with Yentl in a sense,” she says, “because my interest in gender discrimination came from the question, ‘Why?’ Why were women like Yentl not allowed to study? Why wasn’t a woman equal to a man? The point is, for me it raised the issue of why women are still second-class citizens. Why aren’t their minds respected?”
Streisand decided to helm Yentl only after the other filmmakers it was offered to — including French director Claude Berri — turned down the project.
It was scary. It was harder for me being an actress directing than even if I had just been a writer directing. The idea of the archetype of the actress bothers me. The actress is supposed to be vain and not financially responsible for anything, and flaky. All they’re interested in is makeup or beauty products, clothes. I think that was a hard one. Probably another count against me directing it.