Lexi Alexander is an Oscar-Nominated director and filmmaker who has been outspoken about the challenges that women face in the film industry. While studying acting and directing at the Piero Dusa Acting Conservatory and UCLA she directed a short film, Johnny Flynton, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2003. Since, she has directed films such as Green Street Hooligans and Punisher: War Zone. Recently, Alexander published a blog post “getting real” about the difficulties women face in the film industry that quickly went viral. In it she wrote “Repeat after me: THERE IS NO LACK OF FEMALE DIRECTORS. But there is a huge lack of people willing to give female directors opportunities.” Alexander also spoke at the 2014 Athena Film Festival. She is an excellent example not only of a female leader but one who challenges and raises awareness about the position of women in the industry today.
What are the three most important characteristics of a woman leader?
The number one important characteristic for a woman leader is a strong sense of self. Unfortunately that is also the most difficult characteristic to acquire (the basis of it is sown in our upbringing, an environment we don’t control at that age) and it’s also the hardest characteristic to hold on to.
We still live in a world where the default leader is a white male. Women leaders are still outliers. As an outlier, one often struggles with thoughts of “adjusting” to what people are used to. “Maybe if I am more cunning, less emotional, speak with a more certain voice, laugh at dirty jokes…” etc., etc. That’s a slippery slope, because you can lose yourself and everything that made you great in the process. But some leadership positions can only be achieved with a certain amount of popularity, so I certainly understand a female CEO who takes Golf lessons (even though she secretly hates the game) because she knows that every member of the board has been recruited on the golf course.
Because there’s a thin line between fitting in and losing yourself, it’s a good idea to write a manifesto at the beginning of your career of who you are and what you are or aren’t willing to compromise about that.
The second most important characteristic is the ability to inspire. Leadership requires “others”, so if you can’t get people to show up for you (and by show up I mean beyond attendance but actual, enthusiastic presence) there’s no leadership.
The third most import characteristic is integrity. May it be social integrity, financial integrity or in my specific field: artistic integrity. This really goes hand in hand with point number one, a sense of self. If you compromise your artistic integrity, you’re basically benching yourself (I’ve done it and it wasn’t pretty). A quote by author Barbara Kingslover describes what I mean by artistic integrity best: “Don’t try to figure out what people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”
When do you feel at your best?
I feel at my best when I’m working with people whom I respect and who respect me in return.
What did you do in your first year after College?
I traveled around the world with a professional karate team until I became world champion in Atlantic City in 1994.
What does it mean to be a “successful” woman?
My own industry is very fickle when it comes to success. As a director you’re more like a stock for which the value can drop or rise dramatically from one day to another. So I don’t consider myself successful, therefore I can’t speak from experience really. But in my personal opinion, a successful woman is someone who has managed to gain very high respect for her work and as a result, has transcended the gender issue. She’s just a director, not a female director…even in the eyes of her male peers. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany is a woman like that. People think of her as the Chancellor, not the female Chancellor. And nobody in Europe judges her by her sense of fashion, or by her hair cut, like people do with Hillary Clinton in the US. Mind you, that’s not Hillary’s fault. So unfortunately, women aren’t able to achieve that kind of success by themselves. It takes the right kind of environment that allows this to happen, if she’s got all that it takes.
What challenges do you think women in media face today?
US media may be the most sexist media in the world. While most of the rest of the world has figured out that girls aren’t just about dolls and boys aren’t just about cars, the US seems to be stuck in the 50’s somehow. Again, in most European countries run by female leaders, like Lithuania, Norway, Denmark, Kosovo, Germany etc. the media would not consider questioning these women based on their looks and clothes or whether they can still do their job as a “grandmother”. Here the media distributes only a few roles for women. You look at Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, Hillary Clinton and you realize, they can’t win. They’re either ballbusters, bad mothers, too much like a man, not enough like a man. They get in trouble for participating in a “sexy” photo shoot or they get bullied for not being “pretty” enough. As a woman in media, you’re faced with two questions: To what percent am I willing to participate in producing this type of sexist media (and if you’re an idealist like I was right after college, you may think: “Never, I will change the landscape myself with my own productions”, but that only lasts until you run out of rent money) and the other question is, how do I control the way I am portrayed in media (avoid the spotlight as much as possible, because again…it’s not an environment that wants to tell a good story about a successful woman, so unless you’re absolutely have to, don’t rush to be on all the talk shows).
What was your biggest mistake?
Compromising my artistic integrity because I was so eager to get behind the camera again and too tired to compete with all the A-list dudes for the good projects (for the record I like to compete, unless everybody I’m up against is given a massive head-start for no good reason).
What do you do when you need a moment?
I use a form of self-hypnosis I learned as an athlete.
Give yourself a compliment.
I stepped into the ring with fear more than once and have always won the bout.
If you could give “the college you” one piece of advice what would it be?
Define who you are and then tattoo it on a part of your body where you can see it every day.