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Deitch, Donna (b. 1945)  
 
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Despite the success of Desert Hearts, Deitch was not pursued by Hollywood studios. She turned from the big screen to television.

Deitch's next major project was the television mini-series The Women of Brewster Place (1989, based on the novel of the same name by Gloria Naylor, 1982), the story of seven black women, among them a lesbian couple. Oprah Winfrey, both a producer and a star of the show, hired Deitch as the director, but the choice was controversial: several female African-American directors insisted that a black woman should have had the job.

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Despite the criticism, the Emmy-nominated series resonated with black women. Deitch recalled that when she was on a trip to New York, her African-American cab driver told her that "every black woman in America had seen" Brewster Place and, upon learning that Deitch was the director, "pulled the cab over and wouldn't stop talking about it. She loved it, and she didn't want to let me out of the cab."

Deitch continued her work in directing for television with an episode of the 1991 HBO trilogy Prison Stories: Women on the Inside. Her segment was ironically entitled "Esperanza"--the name of the principal character but also the Spanish word for "hope."

Deitch has directed episodes of numerous other television series, including Second Noah (1995-1996), Murder One (1995-1997), NYPD Blue (1997, 2000-2001, 2003), Crossing Jordan (2001-2003, 2006-2007), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2002), Judging Amy (2003), South of Nowhere (2005), L.A. Dragnet (2006), and Bones (2006). She earned a nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement from the Directors Guild of America for her work on a 1997 episode of NYPD Blue.

Deitch also directed The Devil's Arithmetic (1999), a special for the Showtime channel, based on Jane Yolen's 1988 novel for young people in which a teen-aged girl is transported from a seder in America at the end of the twentieth century to a concentration camp in Nazi Germany.

Deitch sought to "make this [film] from a young person's point of view" but also to educate.

"It amazes me how many young people don't know anything about the Holocaust," she said. "The basic message of the movie is the message I get from survivors: 'Remember.' And we tried to get that message across from the beginning with performers and stories young people could identify with."

The powerful movie takes teens from the familiar world of the shopping mall and trendy tattoo parlors to concentration camps where inmates were involuntarily marked with tattoos. Deitch received a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Children's Special for her work.

Deitch was excited to direct a film version of the stage play Common Ground for the Showtime channel in 2000. "I was knocked out by it," she said of the script. "I saw Common Ground as a gay Our Town," referring to Thornton Wilder's 1938 play set in a small New Hampshire community.

The three-part Common Ground takes place in the fictional town of Homer, Connecticut and traces the experiences of gay and lesbian residents over a half century. Paula Vogel wrote the first segment, "A Friend of Dorothy," set in the 1950s and dealing with a lesbian discharged from the Navy after visiting an "alternative" bar. Terrence McNally contributed the second part, "Mr. Roberts," about a 1970s gay high school student--a scholar, an athlete, and a musician--who is bullied and beaten by schoolmates when they learn of his sexual orientation and who turns to his French teacher, who is empathetic toward his student but too intimidated by the social climate to come out of the closet himself. Harvey Fierstein completed the picture with "Amos & Andy," set in the 2000s and featuring a gay wedding.

Deitch returned to feature film with Angel on My Shoulder (1998), the story of the death from cancer of her friend actress Gwen Welles, who had a role in Desert Hearts and who was best known for her performance in Robert Altman's Nashville (1975).

Diagnosed with cancer in 1992, Welles refused conventional treatment. Trusting Deitch, she allowed her to film her decline and to record her thoughts as her life was ending. What she valued most was the gift of honest friendship. In the final scene before her death, Welles, who was straight, celebrated such a relationship by singing Lerner and Loewe's "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" with Deitch.

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