Lexi Alexander wants to be an optimist. “Let’s assume the men [in Hollywood] are not just selfish pricks,” she declared at the Athena Film Festival this past weekend, where she headlined a Q&A panel that followed up on her explosive post about the routine and pernicious employment discrimination faced by women directors.
Alexander displayed understanding, even empathy, for those who maintain the industry’s gender status quo. Sexism isn’t unique to Hollywood, which is why a studio’s shares fall when a woman-directed project is announced. And the reality in Hollywood is that “there’s not enough jobs for everybody.” In a favor-based industry like Hollywood, where quid-pro-quo arrangements are the norm, it makes sense for men (and women) to give jobs to already successful men in the hopes that they might be returned the favor at a later date.
A possible workaround, proposed Alexander, is a three-person alliance. Let’s say a woman TV executive would like to see more women directors hired to helm episodes on a series run by a male showrunner. The male showrunner might be sympathetic toward his female colleagues, but afraid to stick his neck out by hiring a woman director who might not be able to pay back the favor he does for her. In order for the female executive to achieve her goal of hiring more women directors on that show, she might make a pact with the male showrunner and promise to fight for a bigger budget or a renewal or whatever he might want in exchange for hiring more female directors. The result would be more work for female directors and greater solidarity between women in the industry, as well as between men and women.
The passionately indignant Alexander also expressed frustration that the politically liberal atmosphere in Hollywood holds back women’s progress. Rare is the industry power-player who thinks of himself as a chauvinist, even if the stats on his body of work say otherwise, so there’s little motivation for personal introspection or for promoting larger-scale change.
After reading the script for The ExpendaBelles, which has its action heroines dressing up as hookers, Alexander knew she didn’t want to direct the Sylvester Stallone spin-off. But when she heard that Legally Blonde director Robert Luketic, a filmmaker who has made his name on comedies, had been tapped to helm the film, she was filled with such despair she could think of only one piece of advice for aspiring female directors: “Get out” of the industry.
A world kickboxing and karate champion, Alexander found her first job in the U.S. training Marines in hand-to-hand combat. None of those soldiers ever underestimated her or paid her the slightest disrespect, so she was surprised to learn that her personal demeanor in industry meetings — “so confident it was borderline cocky,” complained one potential employer — was a negative. (Needless to say, it’s impossible to imagine that cockiness in a male director would be a disqualifier for a prospective job.)
It was clear that the industry’s lack of fair play is what aggravates her — and has her joking that she’ll need to move to gender-equality haven Sweden to escape the madness. An immigrant from Germany, Alexander is clearly disillusioned by the obstacle to the American Dream that industry-wide sexism represents to her. It doesn’t help that, because filmmaking is a creative business, employment discrimination in Hollywood isn’t taken seriously by the mainstream, non-trade press, since the entire industry is seen as “trivial.”
To add insult to injury, male directors of big movies that track poorly are endowed with super-sized marketing budgets so the film will be a hit. The studios don’t just do this to safeguard their investments, but also to save that male director’s reputation within the industry, argued Alexander. “A hundred years from now they’re going to make a film about us,” she said with a sigh. “And we’re going to look like assholes.”