Audrey Wells, a screenwriter and director who gave a voice to women in films such as Under the Tuscan Sun and the newly released The Hate U Give, died on Oct. 4 in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 58.
Her husband, Brian Larky, said the cause was cancer.
Ms. Wells, who had been battling her illness for five years, died the day before her adaptation of The Hate U Give had its premiere in theatres. Based on Angie Thomas’s bestselling 2017 novel, it tells the story of a black teenage girl straddling opposing worlds after her friend is killed by a white police officer.
Throughout her film career, Ms. Wells told stories of people whose voices were underrepresented, particularly women, and often developed female characters who were as complex as they were strong.
“She was such an incredible feminist voice – long before it was fashionable,” said Nina Jacobson, a friend who founded the production company Color Force, which was behind movies such as Crazy Rich Asians and The Hunger Games.
In 1999, Ms. Wells’s screenwriting was recognized by the Sundance Film Festival for Guinevere, about a young woman who grows up under the sexual and intellectual guidance of an older man.
She also wrote and directed Under the Tuscan Sun, the 2003 movie based on the book by Frances Mayes, about a divorced woman who starts over in Italy. Even while making a seemingly feel-good movie, Ms. Wells infused it with her values, Ms. Jacobson said.
“A woman can feel destroyed by the end of a relationship, feel lost and then go and build a life for herself, which Audrey did,” Ms. Jacobson said.
Ms. Wells also contributed to films such as Chocolat, The Princess Diaries and George of the Jungle, Ms. Jacobson said.
Among her most recent work was Over the Moon, an animated film about a girl who builds a rocket ship to search for a mythical moon goddess. It is scheduled to be released on Netflix.
“What Audrey’s work was doing was expanding the depth and complexity of the female characters,” Ms. Jacobson said, adding that “she gave them the opportunity to be as dimensional as white guys get to be all the time.”
Audrey Ann Lederer was born in San Francisco on Jan. 25, 1960, and grew up in Sausalito, Calif. Her parents, Dr. Wolfgang Lederer, a psychiatrist from Austria, and Alexandra Botwin Lederer, a psychologist from Romania, met in the United States after fleeing Europe around the Second World War.
She got her undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley, and initially pursued an interest in radio, working as a DJ at a jazz station in the San Francisco area, her husband said.
She also set up public radio stations in remote locations in Alaska, he said, and lived in Paris for a time. She eventually turned to film and earned a master of fine arts from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Ms. Wells taught her daughter, Tatiana, now 17, the value of both unruly joyfulness and hard work, Ms. Jacobson said.
When their daughters were young, Ms. Jacobson said, Ms. Wells set up a picnic table full of pies filled with pudding and whipped cream and orchestrated a playful fight. But Ms. Wells was also a working mother who led by example, letting her daughter know when she was on deadline.
Ms. Wells met Mr. Larky at a dinner party in 2012. She learned she had cancer in 2013, he said, and they wed later that year.
A complete list of survivors, beside her husband and her daughter, was not immediately available.