Before she became one of the most vocal advocates in the ongoing push for diversity in Hollywood, Lexi Alexander was a young, mixed-race immigrant born to a German mother and a Palestinian father. After coming to the U.S. at the age of 19, she made a name for herself on the competitive martial arts circuit while also finding work in the film industry as a stunt woman.
Though Lexi felt at home throwing punches in front of the camera, she found her true calling crafting stories of her own behind it, which led her to enroll in film school in pursuit of her passion. Since then, she’s gone on to write and direct the Oscar-nominated indie short film Johnny Flynton as well as mainstream studio projects like Green Street Hooligans and Punisher: War Zone.
These days, she’s set her sights on the small screen, bringing her unique brand of grit to shows like the CW’s Arrow and an upcoming episode of CBS’s Supergirl.
I recently spoke with Lexi about Hollywood’s gradual awakening to the fact that minority and women directors not only have a right to equal representation in the industry, but have more than enough talent to back up their demands. Things are changing, she explained to me, but that change is slow and in no way guaranteed to last.
How have you seen studios responding since the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began looking into the representation of female directors?
Lately, things have changed because of the EEOC investigation. None of us actually need any of us to sue individually. I’ve asked the EEOC straight up and they’ve told me that if they have the proof, the commissioner will go after the studios and the studios know that. So now, it’s a matter of waiting and the studios are reacting on their own.
It isn’t just fear of the EEOC; no studio wants to be seen as the company with a diversity problem.
So the studios are moving–slowly–but still not really getting it?
In some cases, yes. People think that diversity is such an easy thing, but it’s not just about hiring non-white people or women. You have to understand what’s going on so that you can create an inclusive environment where people feel comfortable enough to thrive and do good work.
That’s where there’s still so much work to be done.
Give me an example.
So, sometimes, I hear things from people I love to work with who speak to me with these compliments that they don’t recognize as microaggressions. They’ll say things like “we love working with you because you’re a woman and you can do action.” They don’t understand that saying things like that is deeply offensive.
The bigotry in Hollywood with directors isn’t nearly as explicit as we think of it; it’s a passive-aggressive thing.
Often, female directors don’t get courted the way that men do–there’s a difference between meeting with someone in an office to discuss a potential deal versus taking someone out for drinks and courting them. Because of this investigation, more studios are meeting women, but it doesn’t necessarily amount to the same interest.
You said that certain studios don’t want to be seen as having a diversity problem, but there’s still this toxic culture. Explain that dichotomy to me.
In some cases an individual show will volunteer (to diversify) on its own, but there’s a lot of shows that refuse to listen to the network’s urges to hire more women and people of color. For some reason, we’re seen coming with this risk that somehow we won’t be good at our jobs.
You see that so often–white guys who have one indie at Sundance and then, suddenly, they’ve got five pilots in the works. Some British guy who’s only made two music videos isn’t thought of as a risk, whereas me–someone who’s been nominated for an Oscar, I am.
We’re constantly being set up to be underestimated. It’s ridiculous.
So, what does the flip side of that look like? More than just hiring people and calling it a day?
This is where inclusion comes in—one of Supergirl’s showrunners, Andrew Kreisberg, he made sure that everyone on set knew that he thought that I was a star. It set this tone that made it so that the cast trusted me. The impact of working with a crew that knows that the showrunner fully trusts you is incredible and it makes all the difference.
It annoys me on these shows when you see a female cop punching a man in the shin and walking away like it’s nothing. If she actually punched him like that, she’d break her wrist.
With Supergirl, they’ve established that she relies a lot on her powers, which–ok, but what was really neat was that Andrew was very down to let me ground her fight scene in real martial arts. Instead of just using her strength, she’s meeting him head-on and being a bit of a bad-ass. It let me establish this new part of her character that can be used in the series.
Let’s talk comics for a second. We’re living in this golden age for diversity in comics right around when superhero movies and tv shows are the Big Thing, but it’s rare you see those two ideas together.
Yes! I’m super surprised that nobody is talking about Kamala Khan as a television show right now.
Nothing personal to the actor playing him, but the new Spider-Man we’re getting now is so boring. We’ve seen his story a million times and it makes no sense to do it again because we’ve got someone else’s origin that needs to be told. Miles Morales isn’t just a new character, he’s so much more interesting compared to Peter Parker and the same goes for the new Thor.
These movies are supposed to reflect their fans, but they don’t. Not really. You don’t walk outside of your house and only see white people, but to watch some of these films, that’s what you’d think.
In the past you’ve said that it’s really up to the fans to change the way these studios make their movies, what do you mean?
As long as studios are making money, they have no reason to change. I used to buy into the myth that it was mostly foreign distributors that made American studios act that way.
There’s this idea that foreign markets like China don’t want to see movies with people of color or women as leads. That might be true sometimes, but it doesn’t mean that a studio has to listen to them.
We’ve brainwashed ourselves. That’s the injustice here, studios can tell foreign markets that they’re just not going to get the movie. The real problem here, though, is that there’s not enough pushback from the public. Not yet.