AFI Movie Club: YENTL
YENTL, the musical drama of a brave young woman who poses as a boy to pursue her passion for studying Jewish Talmudic Law, features the talents of AFI Life Achievement Award recipient Barbra Streisand – who wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film.
Watch Barbra Streisand talk about YENTL in this exclusive AFI Archive Video:
Movie Club Trivia About YENTL
DID YOU KNOW? Barbra Streisand acquired the screen rights to Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story “Yentl, The Yeshiva Boy” in 1968. Three years later, Streisand announced her intent to star in a motion picture adaptation, at the time titled MASQUERADE. The project took more than 10 years to get produced.
DID YOU KNOW? Czech filmmaker Ivan Passer was originally slated to direct YENTL before Barbra Streisand decided to helm the picture.
DID YOU KNOW? Barbra Streisand was in her thirties when she started working on YENTL, and she faced discouragement from studio executives who argued that she was too old for the part. After championing the project for more than a decade, Streisand announced that the film would also mark her directorial debut.
DID YOU KNOW? YENTL was initially reimagined as a musical at Orion Pictures, with an early screenplay by Ted Allan. However, the studio did not continue with the project in fear of its large budget and first-time director.
DID YOU KNOW? Richard Gere and Michael Douglas were among those initially considered for Avigdor, the male lead, before the role ultimately went to Mandy Patinkin.
DID YOU KNOW? Principal photography began in April 1982 at Lee International Studios in London. The company then went on location in the Czech Republic to film in Prague, Roztyly and Zatec.
DID YOU KNOW? When production ran behind schedule and over budget, MGM/UA sold part of its interest to an English tax shelter group and rumors circulated that Barbra Streisand was ousted from her role as producer. Studio executives denied this claim, and trade magazines reported that the filmmaker invested roughly $4 million of her personal wealth in the production.
DID YOU KNOW? YENTL cost over $18 million to produce and earned more than $40 million during its theatrical run.
DID YOU KNOW? Barbra Streisand appears in almost every scene and is the only performer of the movie’s 12 songs.
DID YOU KNOW? Oscar®-winning songwriter spouses Marilyn and Alan Bergman had longstanding relationships with both composer Michel Legrand and filmmaker Barbra Streisand. In addition to their work on YENTL, A STAR IS BORN and THE WAY WE WERE, the couple also wrote lyrics for “One Voice,” Streisand’s 1987 concert and live album.
DID YOU KNOW? Doctors named a medical condition after this movie – the Yentl Syndrome – to define gender biases in the treatment and effects of ischaemic heart disease, particularly in their negative impacts on women.
DID YOU KNOW? YENTL won Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and Best Director, making Barbra Streisand the first and only woman to win in this category to date.
DID YOU KNOW? YENTL was nominated for five Oscars®, including Best Original Song (“Papa, Can You Hear Me?” and “The Way He Makes Me Feel”), Best Art Direction and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Amy Irving). The film won the Academy Award® for Best Original Score.
Learn more at the AFI Catalog.
The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions
– In YENTL, women are prohibited from studying the Torah and are relegated to domestic servitude instead of pursuing their own intellectual enlightenment. Why do you think Jewish culture barred women from being educated? How is gender discrimination represented in the film?
-YENTL depicts the entitlements and luxuries of men through the lens of a woman who is denied those same freedoms. What would it feel like to be born into a gender role that you find impossible to identify with? Would you make the same choice as Yentl, and try to conceal your sex?
-YENTL cloaks cross-dressing and homosexuality in a veil of deceitful impersonation and mistaken identity. These aspects of humanity are depicted with humor and fear, shown as cultural transgressions that are only justifiable because Yentl, as a girl, has been unfairly excluded from equal access to scholarship. Do you think YENTL fairly considers the real-world challenges of queer society, or does it evade these issues by fixating on Yentl’s heterosexuality?
-YENTL has been hailed as a feminist film, and yet its credits feature Barbra Streisand’s declaration: “This film is dedicated to my father… and to all our fathers.” Is Yentl truly subversive when she decides to hide her gender to take on masculine roles in her Jewish community? What parts of the story represent women’s equality, and which scenes depict Yentl’s rejection of femininity? How do these narrative cues relate to our world today?
-YENTL is an untraditional musical because there is only one singer throughout the film—Barbra Streisand. When do songs appear in the movie, and why do you think music is devoted to only one character?
-How would you rate YENTL?
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