Amy Poehler's directorial debut, Wine Country, drops this weekend on Netflix.
Amy Poehler’s directorial debut, Wine Country, drops this weekend on Netflix.

She’s been hailed as a queen of comedy for her television performances, but recently, Amy Poehler decided to try something different. In her directorial debut, Poehler takes on — and stars in — the original movie Wine Country, which drops Friday on Netflix.

Based on the actual trip Poehler and her friends took to Napa two years ago to celebrate a birthday, Wine Country follows a reunion of former Saturday Night Live cast members (Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, and Maya Rudolph, to name a few) as they waddle and wallow through midlife crises in raunchy slapstick humor (Bridesmaids, anyone?).

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How She Got Over Her Doubts

Most recognized for her own role in Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation, Poehler has received just about every television accolade  awardable from the Golden Globes to the Emmys, but this is her first time in the director’s seat of a feature-length film. As with any new experience, Poehler naturally had her doubts, but seeing Hollywood’s gender disparity encouraged her to follow her directorial dreams.

She reveals how she apparently talked herself into the project to Elle: “There are young male directors who are fine with taking on a $60 million movie, even if they’ve never done anything before. So it’s not only about creating opportunities for women when you have the power but about taking the power, even if you don’t feel like you’re ready.”

And Poehler isn’t just stopping there. After Wine Country, she already has her next film project lined up: another Netflix original called Moxie, which she plans to direct herself. Also in the works is the Fox animated series Duncanville, which Poehler will direct as well, and a number of long-running shows like Broad City and I Feel Bad, which her own company, Paper Kite Productions, currently produces. For each of her creative projects, Poehler ensures she sets an example for gender equality in the entertainment industry — for her web television series, Russian Doll, for example, Poehler hired all female writers and directors and intentionally created a complex female fictional character.

Poehler spoke to the LA Times about Russian Dolls a few months ago: “The women I work with and know are really, really complicated women. That’s the thing I’m most proud of. So we wanted to show a female character getting to live the width and breadth of life. Tony Soprano is allowed to be all things. And I think of Natasha [the female lead] as my Tony Soprano.”

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Continuing the Work of Smart Girls

To some, Poehler’s behind-the-scenes endeavors to achieve gender parity may come as a surprise, but she’s been quietly supporting female empowerment for quite some time through Smart Girls, an organization that helps young people cultivate their authentic selves. Poehler co-founded the organization with Meredith Walker in 2008 after drawing inspiration from personal experiences.

“We were drinking wine and talking about that age range, fifth through eighth grade, how tough it is. If we could go back in a time machine, what would have helped us? And we were [like], ‘We should do this! We can really help. Let’s start a camp. Let’s do events, like conferences for girls. Let’s do it.’ ” Walker told Austin Woman magazine.

With Poehler’s and Walker’s entrepreneurial spirit, Smart Girls grew into a national multimedia platform that provides educational videos, including a segment in 2018 called “Smart Girls Vote,” and features the stories of inspirational women. Since its inception, Smart Girls has amassed 140,000 YouTube channel subscribers and a whopping one million Instagram followers. The organization’s website also includes videos from its “Fueled by Failure Summit” in 2017, a mentorship conference intended to teach young women leadership skills and help them gain strength and confidence.

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When asked about the future of Smart Girls, Walker says, “We’re starting our very first Smart Girls local chapter here in Austin [by 2017]…but we really live in social media. That’s where people love to engage and interact.”

A decade after its launch, the Smart Girls community is as alive as ever. At the Smart Girls’ 10th anniversary dinner in 2018, Poehler brought a diverse group of influential female activists together to discuss everything from gender bias to the importance of self-care. On a more sobering note, she told Variety that 10 years from now, she hopes the dialogue will change from “What do you do?” to “What are you doing?”

In her directorial debut, wine is Poehler’s choice of alcohol and feminism her brand — off-screen, Poehler aims to inspire the next generation of Smart Girls and bring Hollywood closer to gender parity, one movie at a time.

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