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Lexi Alexander Explains Why #HireTheseWomen is More Than Just a Hashtag

by Lexi Alexander
June 27, 2014 5:35 PM
4 Comments
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All the good stuff has already been said about the wonderful hashtag movement started by Miriam Bale and it's really good to see so many people rally behind it. After I added that first list of women filmmakers to the #HireTheseWomen chain and a few bloggers mentioned it, I received a couple of calls from people asking why I didn't included "so-and-so" on the list. I realized that I should probably explain how that specific list came about. 

Lexi Alexander on set
Lexi Alexander on set

Because I believe in doing more and talking less, I've been trying to come up with some kind of a solution, some type of platform for female directors and writers. People talk about crowd-funding, Indies, alternative distribution, etc. and that's all great, but I don't believe it does much for equality in the film industry. If women choose guerilla style filmmaking or new media productions etc., all power to them. But if they're there because "Big Hollywood" won't let them in, then we're moving further and further away from equality.

What do we say to a twelve-year-old girl who watches Star Trek for the first time and says: "I want to make movies like that".  Do we say: "Yeah, try to reduce your vision to something that's crowd fundable, you're a girl after all"? There are many, many women whose visions are more comparable to those of a J.J.Abrams, Chris Nolan, or Guillermo Del Toro's than to those of David Lynch or Spike Lee. (And for those specialists who keep insisting everything I write must be about me: I am not a tent-pole, big popcorn visionary at all, even if you see my name pop up in blogs as soon as one of them is announced.)

People around the world want all these movies, the big ones and the small ones, the loud ones and the quiet ones, but we can't have one production line with a big fucking "NO GIRLS ALLOWED" sign. I tried to explain this to somebody the other day who kept arguing with me that women and minority filmmakers should just create their own opportunities rather than bitch about Hollywood. "Grab your iPhone, make a movie, post it on Amazon, self-distribute, become a distributor" and so on.

First of all, every female filmmaker you have ever heard of has already done this ten times over, otherwise you would have never heard of them.  But more importantly, if we accept this as a permanent situation then we participate in creating the most screwed up, discriminating environment of the Western world, in the 21st century. Imagine telling all young women who dream of opening their own restaurants that only Food Trucks are realistic possibilities.

Director Tamra Davis
Director Tamra Davis

So, if both mainstream and guerilla filmmaking are out, then all that's left as a possible platform is TV. US folks probably think: "TV? Weren't you just talking about women who wanted to make movies, maybe even big, loud ones?". Yes. But since women don't ever get pulled from semi-Sundance fame to blockbuster filmmaker status and no crowd in the world will fund a bigger sized action or sci-fi movie for a new filmmaker, the options for our young, female J.J. Abrams are somewhat limited. The only chance she's got is by putting out some work that receives critical acclaim and most importantly, gains her a fanbase.

As someone who grew up in Europe I don't look  at TV and automatically think of a primetime network series, created by a staff of writers.  I think of 90-minute movies that can break talents out or a three 90-minutes-an-episode mini series that can introduce a fantastic new series like The Blechtley Circle. While this is not a very common format here in the US, there are some places like HBO, IFC and the Sundance Channel who have ventured into short form series or a new and classier version of what used to be known as "movie-of-the-week".

Long story short, a couple of months ago I met with my managers and told them I'd like to pitch an anthology of 90 minute mysteries/thrillers, each one directed and written by different women, that serves as a platform for female writers and directors (obviously there's more to this pitch, but I'm trying to keep this post at a readable length).

I fully suspected my managers to object with all kinds of "let's-not-mix-activism-with-showbiz" talk, but instead they loved they idea and helped me develop that pitch. One of their suggestions was that I should create a list of female writers & directors who fit this genre, whose names will be recognized by most Execs and who could start off this anthology with a bang, so that eventually, when it is a success and a brand,  it becomes a platform to for new female talent. That's how that particular list came about. The other list with the comedy directors, that really was created solely because an Executive told me that they've been asking all the agents  in town for names of women who could direct a female-driven comedy and ended up with one name only.

I'd hate the idea that somebody who's already being sidelined felt even more excluded by this list I created. Frankly I don't personally know most of the directors and writers on those lists, so this was not a personal preference. I merely went through the same process the agents go through when submitting their clients, which is pull a list of names of people who have a body of work similar to the project in question.

Women are under represented and neglected in all aspects of the entertainment industry, so naturally, those of us who want to make a change use any opportunity to shine a light on someone when we can. But it's tough to find the right balance between drawing attention to someone, yet not excluding the many other, equally deserving women.  I am often overwhelmed by it. I want to throw in the towel on this battle on a daily basis, especially when I watch much higher profile women stubbornly stay silent and refuse to get involved.

It's only because my loveable but very annoying mother keeps reminding me during every Sunday Skype call of my favorite quote from this fable I was obsessed with a child:

"There are things which you must do, even if they are dangerous, because if you don't you are not a human being, but just a little shit".

Astrid Lindgren (The Brothers Lionheart)

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4 Comments

  • christopher m capwell | July 1, 2014 2:27 AMReply

    I have decided not to address the question of difference in terms of the human experience. Just to say this- if childbirth and victimhood are the only two,that an educated person can discern- I might have been faulty in using educated as a description. Stop Loss, was well written and well directed, and yes it was a woman who did both- and not to disqualify that achievement, it is important to note that writing is often THE gateway to directing for women, Harry Potter was quite an interesting topic to address, specifically in terms of cinema. J.K. Rowling did capture "the coming of age tale of a young male wizard," However, it is important to note that she wrote novels, and after unparalleled literary success- her books were optioned by Warner Brothers and then transferred mediums. There have been eight Harry Potter films, all of them have been written and directed by men. Since Ms. Alexander broached the topic of women and directing- in cinema Harry Potter is not in anyway representative of her thesis. If the films serve any purpose, they demonstrate the inherent gender discrimination in Hollywood. While Young Adult films sizzle at the box-office, many of them are penned by women, then directed by men. In the case of Harry Potter there were eight screenplays written by men and eight features directed by men.
    To the overarching question posed in your response, "Why is the imbalance such a horrible thing at this point?" You operate under two false assumptions- first off you suggest that oppression is natural, by insisting that the gender gap in Hollywood is a natural progression. Secondly, Ms. Alexander is not- in anyway- suggesting or insisting that companies hire specifically based on gender. She correctly posits that they already do- hence the lack of equality in gender and the lack of opportunity. Women make up more than 50% of the population, more than 50% of college graduates, and film school graduates. Therefore it is safe to assume that many are actively pursuing careers in Hollywood- perhaps even as directors. Then the question then lie within much more specific parameters. Is the goal of certain individuals such as Ms. Alexander to achieve equality in terms of the number of female directors? I do not believe it is. I assert the goal is to critique an industry of which she is a member, and to further the opportunity afforded to all.
    If an argument exist that asserts- there are fewer female directors in Hollywood because:
    fewer women aspire, and or make a valid attempt to direct- I hope that I have dispelled such arguments. But as you noted- the gender gap is tangible- thus on a micro level it is mendable. Let us first categorically refute the assertion that this disparity is part of a natural- anything. I will accept that Hollywood is not a meritocracy. That does not justify the male domination- it might explain it, but that is not the same. To dispel another falsehood, 'Hollywood,' is not simply all about the money- if it were there would be more diversity not less. Diversity drives profit- as demonstrated by the demographic makeup of the audience of diverse films. As messy as this issue is, to a woman director it can be as clean cut as equal opportunity for employment. Put another way, women are denied employment for no reason other than their gender, that is not only immoral, it is illegal.

  • Bob.W | June 27, 2014 10:58 PMReply

    OFNA...it's not about being the "victim" as much as it is about not receiving equal opportunity. I think Lexi made that abundantly clear, and since the numbers seem to be dismally out of whack, then most certainly something needs to be done and if that something means women are given a much needed boost then by all means this should be supported...we're are talking about half the human population afterall!

  • ofna | June 27, 2014 7:13 PMReply

    Lexi, if you want to enforce quotas, or hire people strictly based on their gender, which is what it sounds like you think the industry already does, then just say so.

    Also, I would like to know what, in terms of the human experience, do women and men face on such different levels? Besides child birth and being told constantly that you're more of a victim than men when the government statistics clearly display the opposite, I would sincerely like to know what a male director making a film about women, or a female director making a film about men does to derail us from understanding certain character's personal perspectives. Or for that matter, certain gender's personal perspective.

    For example, was Ingmar Bergman, or Kechiche, or Rossellini, or Godard or even James Cameron so far off in depicting their female characters? Were there not things that both genders saw equally, and understood on a fundamental human level? Harry Potter, for instance, is the story of a boy going through puberty, essentially, and told by a woman. Without a hint of condescending viewpoints, I certainly felt like she hit the nail on the head more than once in terms of what it's like being a boy and becoming a man. But by today's standards, that would almost seem like a wasted opportunity for a woman to "represent" the female perspective. Do you not see how superfluous that whole idea is?

    What about Kimberly Pierce's Stop Loss, or Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy? Movies about men told by women and dammit if they weren't humanist, overall, in their perspective. So why is it then that a man cannot accomplish the same task? Why is the imbalance a horrible thing at this point? It's growing steadily. A natural progression is occurring, and the more women who put themselves out there (because how else did the older generation of female directors get their shot?) the more female "perspective" we will see.

    Again, what's with the divisive idea surrounding who directs what stories? If it's just Hollywood you're concerned about then maybe you should tap into some Cassavetes type of thinking and dismiss them completely. He's the guy who said that Hollywood has failed, and he wasn't being gender specific when he said so.

    I, too, would like to see more female directors, but insisting companies hire based strictly on the basis of gender is a faulty path to what we all might consider equality. The Hollywood ideal is money, nothing more. I'm sure you already knew that, but for god's sakes. Can you not take that, or any number of factors which make the gender imbalance a tangible manifestation in our entertainment industry? Hell, you even ask in this article whether or not the doors are shut JUST BECAUSE they're women. One step at a time. Maybe there should be a hashtag for that.

  • Marian | June 27, 2014 6:41 PMReply

    Thanks, Lexi. I love it that you're experimenting with ways to get women's work made. And that you're persisting, that you're not 'throwing in the towel. All strength to you!

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