56 pages 1 hour read

Barbra Streisand

My Name Is Barbra

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 2023

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

My Name Is Barbra (2023) is famed singer and actor Barbra Streisand’s epic memoir about her life and decades-long career in the entertainment industry. The autobiography details the most important times in Streisand’s life and aims to set the record straight on many rumors that have followed her career. Throughout the book, Streisand discusses her role as a woman in a male-dominated industry, how fame bothers her, and how important truth is to her. My Name Is Barbra reveals the emotional and artistic complexities behind one of the most influential entertainers of the 20th century.

This guide refers to the Viking e-book edition of the text.

Content Warning: This text features discussions of sexual assault, death by suicide, domestic abuse, drug and alcohol misuse and addiction, sexism, antisemitism, racism, anti-gay bias, and xenophobia.

Summary

Barbra Streisand knew she had the potential to be a star from a young age, even though many did not think she fit the mold of a successful actor. Streisand never knew her father—who died when she was one year old—and feels like her mother didn’t know her, which influenced her self-esteem and security throughout her life. Despite feeling alone and unsupported by her family, Streisand was determined to follow her dreams whatever the cost, working hard to be close to fellow artists whenever possible.

Streisand dreamed of becoming an actor, yet she spent her early career singing in nightclubs rather than performing on Broadway. Although she was bothered to be primarily known for her voice, she gained acclaim and a following for her singing, and after years of effort, she was finally cast in a Broadway musical. Her big break came when she was cast as the lead in Funny Girl, yet despite her skyrocketing fame, Streisand felt bored performing the same show every night and longed for new projects. This was especially true once she had her son, Jason—becoming a mother made her reevaluate how she spent her time.

From the beginning of her career, Streisand was told to change things about herself, particularly her name, her nose, and her style. This made her feel somewhat insecure, but she stood her ground, especially when it came to her creative freedom. Her vision for her art has always been clear, so she forwent a more lucrative contract when she signed with Columbia Records to maintain full creative control of her work. By contrast, she signed a multi-film contract for her first movie and soon felt trapped.

Throughout the autobiography, Streisand recognizes all of her creative collaborators throughout her career, whether they supported her or spurned her. She had many great experiences working with the cast and crew of her first movies, but nearly as many bad ones. Due to her clear creative vision and attention to detail, Streisand often comes across as controlling or a diva when she is just trying to be direct. Most of the criticism against her reflects misogynistic bias about a woman who is not afraid to speak her mind. Streisand is often slandered in the press for the same reasons.

Streisand knew she had the creative vision to write and direct movies of her own, yet the misogyny she faced made her doubt herself. She started a production company and she eventually gained the confidence to start directing and screenwriting. She spent over 15 years writing, directing, and producing her film Yentl, facing criticism both before and after the film was made. Many in Hollywood didn’t believe a woman should have that much control over a project, and though she was snubbed for the Best Director Academy Award, she was the first woman to win a Golden Globe for Best Director.

Streisand believes an artist has the civic duties of any other citizen, so her art is often influenced by her interest in political and social issues. Streisand takes every opportunity she can to educate herself about global and American politics, and many of the films she has made focus on social injustices such as gender inequality. In the 1990s, she began campaigning for progressive politicians and becoming more publicly vocal about her beliefs, for which she was criticized, yet continued to stand up for herself.

Streisand also became increasingly interested in philanthropy, performing live concerts for the first time in decades to benefit good causes. She has made contributions to the fight against AIDS, women’s heart health research, nuclear disarmament, voter enfranchisement, and many other causes she cares about. At the time of writing, philanthropy and her family are the most important things to which she wants to give more of her time.

While writing My Name Is Barbra, Streisand looked at many recorded memories from her career, something that was both healing and painful. Though she has regrets, she also looks forward to what she can do in the future and acknowledges that she feels like one of the luckiest people in the world.

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