You may know Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s thickly accented voice or recognize her diminutive presence at just 4 foot 7 inches, but Ryan White, the director of the new documentary “Ask Dr. Ruth” says he was drawn to make a film about Westheimer upon learning about her impressive, worldly backstory.
White’s film shows how Westheimer went from a life in Frankfurt, Germany, survived and escaped the war and even wound up as a sniper in the Israeli military (yes, really) before making her way to America and becoming a household name as a sex therapist.
“I knew her as America’s sex therapist, but I did not know the 55 years of life that she lived before she became famous, that was challenge after challenge. Her whole family was murdered in the Holocaust, she went through World War II, she went through Israeli independence,” White told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman at the Sundance Film Festival. “It’s almost like a ‘Forrest Gump’ style story,”
White describes his film, which was acquired by Hulu ahead of its premiere at Sundance on Jan. 25, as a “survival story” and a “refugee story” about the American dream that led to Westheimer becoming Dr. Ruth.
And of course Westheimer is still going strong at 90-years-old, with White saying that she managed to publish three books and continue on radio appearances and a regular Time magazine column all during the course of filming. But the real reason White wanted to make the film was because of her backstory and her progressive stances on topics like abortion, homosexuality and AIDS, which helped to make these subjects mainstream and understandable.
“All of these parts of the sexual revolution are paced throughout the film, but the backstory of what she went through before she became Dr. Ruth is really the thread of the film,” White said. “The thing that I hope audiences take away most is that this is a woman who lost everything. She had to create herself.”
“Ask Dr. Ruth” will receive the widest theatrical release for a Hulu documentary to date later this year. Watch the video with White above.
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