NEW YORK — One of the more famous quips attributed to Golda Meir, Israel’s first and only female prime minister, was her response to how it felt being a woman in an overwhelmingly male political arena.
“I don’t know,” she was oft quoted as saying. “I’ve never tried being a man.”
Meir indisputably broke a glass ceiling — one that hasn’t been broken since — but she had a prickly relationship with feminism, a label she certainly didn’t embrace. Still, argues director Guy Nattiv, the trajectory of Meir’s career — especially the nature of the public blame she received for losses in the 1973 war between Israel and a coalition of Arab states — was very much connected to her gender.
“A hundred percent,” Nattiv says, “if she was not a woman it would have ended totally differently." And that's one of the reasons Nattiv says he relished directing “Golda,” starring Helen Mirren: the chance to reframe the image of a woman many Israelis recall with great ambivalence — and who the youngest generation, he says, knows chiefly as a picture on currency or for sharing a name with a popular ice cream chain.
Nattiv was born in Israel in 1973, the same year war broke out between his country and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. His father fought in the conflict.
Aside from examining who was to blame for intelligence failures leading to early Israeli losses, Nattiv seeks to present a Meir who, despite a tough veneer, was plagued by doubt and anxiety. Also illness: The chain-smoking leader was undergoing secret treatments for lymphoma.
Meir resigned in 1974 amid continued fallout from the war, despite having been cleared of direct responsibility for intelligence failures. She died four years later, at age 80.
Nattiv, who now lives in the United States, spoke about Meir, Mirren, and what he was trying to accomplish with “Golda.” The interview has been edited for length and clarity.