The weekend after this year's Academy Award nominations were announced on Feb. 16, Barbra Streisand took to bed with the flu. The news that Thursday morning had been particularly disheartening; "Yentl," Streisand's 15-year labor of love, had been all but ignored.
From her sickbed, Streisand spoke with friends. Recalls one, "She was trying to act philosophic about it. She told me, 'I can't say I'm surprised. I knew it would happen.' But you couldn't miss the subtext. You could tell she was hurt and appalled. She told me she hadn't been sick for years, but she didn't seem to draw the connection."
Although the $16-million solo-musical in which Streisand dresses as a boy to get an education had been heavily promoted in the Hollywood trade papers by MGM/UA as a major Oscar contender, "Yentl" received just five nominations, and insulting nominations at that. No best picture nomination. No best directing. Not even a best actress nomination was allotted to Streisand.
Hollywood, secretly thrilled by La Scandale Streisand, pretended to be stunned. The nominations were widely interpreted as a personal slap at Streisand, who had defied most of the power brokers in the movie business--as well as her former companion, Jon Peters--by insisting on writing, directing, producing and acting in "Yentl."
Yet even before the Academy's nominations were announced, there were omens that all did not bode well for poor "Yentl." When the Directors Guild of America announced its nominees for its annual best director award on Jan. 25, Streisand was not included--and since the DGA's list usually foreshadows the Academy's choices, Streisand clearly faced an uphill battle.
Speaking to the press on Jan. 28 at the Golden Globe Awards--given annually by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and prized mostly for their publicity value--Streisand dismissed the DGA's cold shoulder, saying, "Maybe in the next few years with more women directing they'll get used to us."
But when the Oscar nominations showed that the Academy's actors, writers and producers were equally cool toward Streisand, she refused to respond publicly.
Last week, in an ABC interview from Jerusalem where she had just opened the movie and also dedicated the Emanuel Streisand School of Jewish Studies at Hebrew University, she told David Hartman, ". . . I feel that the media and people must be more positive than negative--in life, I think, in order for survival, for the planet's survival. So I would rather not theorize negatively about the reasons. I leave that to journalists, to you, to anyone who wants to take a guess. My reward has been in having the opportunity to make this film, to express my feelings--about women, about men. And also the reward for me has come from the people's support and from my peers . . . and filmmakers that mean a lot to me."
But while Streisand has refused to answer back to the Academy, her friends and partisans have taken up the cause on her behalf. Speaking for attribution, they tend to downplay her disappointment. "I wish she had been nominated," her former agent Sue Mengers commiserated. Speaking privately, they are more frank. Said one associate, "I know Barbra feels that it's as if people couldn't see the film for what it was. They were judging her instead."
Hollywood feminists have turned the "Yentl" affair into a mini cause ce'le bre.
At the Golden Globes, Shirley MacLaine lauded Streisand's example, saying, "There still aren't any scripts for women over 17 to play. The solution will be to develop our own properties and exert our kind of passion and intelligence--as Barbra did."
When the DGA failed to nominate Streisand, the board of the California Chapter of the National Organization for Women passed a resolution declaring its "dissatisfaction."
And, tomorrow night, outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where the Oscar ceremonies will be held, a woman's group called PEP (Principals, Equality and Professionalism in Film) is planning to protest Streisand's exclusion, claiming it is representative of ongoing discrimination within the film industry.
According to one friend, Streisand herself has been asking, "What is it? Is it because I'm a woman or because I'm me?"
There are those in Hollywood who would say that Streisand's sex had nothing to do with it.
One Academy Award-winning producer, who declined to be named, said "Streisand has been heavy-handed in everything she's ever done. All you have to do is go back to 'A Star Is Born,' which was a horrendous experience for everybody . . . There's an enormous amount of resentment toward her in this town and now the tables have turned, and she's asking directors, writers, producers for their vote. It just doesn't work that way. She may be a perfectionist, but it's how she's handled herself . . . I think she'll probably be a much easier person to work with from here on in."
Within the clubby confines of Hollywood, Streisand is simply not regarded as a team player--one of the producers of a recent Academy Awards show recalled how Streisand had agreed to present the best picture award but then pulled out at the last minute. "She claimed that she was 10 pounds overweight, that she didn't have the right dress, and anyway, she said, 'Hollywood hates me.' Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies."
"It's sad," observes Frank Yablans, president of MGM/UA, the studio that backed "Yentl." "The movie is certainly an Academy Award world-class film. I think Barbra's work is extraordinary on any level, but I believe there was probably a good deal of, shall we say, political backlash vis-a -vis Barbra, which is not without precedent in Hollywood. Once that kind of spleen is vented, the Academy usually goes on to give you an award for something you don't deserve it for."
Oddly enough, the one person who may have played the largest role in blackballing Streisand has nothing to do with Hollywood at all: On Jan. 29, while the nominating ballots were still in the hands of the Academy's 4,000 voting members, Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Nobel Prize-winner whose short story, "Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy," served as the basis for the movie, railed against the musical adaptation in The New York Times' Arts and Leisure section. "The passion for learning and the passion for singing are not much related in my mind," Singer wrote. "Let me say: One cannot cover up with songs the shortcomings of the direction and acting."
Usually, Hollywood pays no heed to an author crying rape, but the august Singer could be a special case. According to some in Streisand's circle, the very earnestness with which Streisand set out exploring her Jewish roots in "Yentl" may have embarrassed some of the more assimilated members of Hollywood's Jewish community--and so when Singer denounced the movie, they felt free to reject it as well.
So who needs Hollywood?
Streisand, for her part, has hardly been sulking. While she may be unwelcome at home, she has proven a smash abroad. In a triumphal tour of Europe and Israel, just concluded, she was awarded the French Legion of Honor in Paris; she nearly upstaged Princess Alexandra at a Royal Premiere in London; she lunched with Fellini, Antonioni and Lina Wertmuller in Rome; and she dazzled the crowds in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Streisand doesn't plan to return to Hollywood for the Oscars. She's going off on a vacation instead.