Alexandra Barreto’s ‘Lady Hater’ cleverly challenges our ideas about beauty
In a time when feminism seems to be at the height of its latest wave, and platforms such as Instagram can make or break a young girl’s dreams, “Lady Hater” stands a good chance of stirring up some conversation during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. The annual celebration is currently underway and will run until May 5.
Alexandra Barreto makes her directorial debut with her seven-minute short. The film premieres on Friday, April 26, during the 18th installment of the renowned festival. After spending nearly two decades in the entertainment industry, producing and writing, as well as starring in shows such as “The District,” “Justified,” “Parenthood,” “The Fosters,” and “Mayans M.C.,” Barreto reveals a new side of herself with “Lady Haters.”
The initial inspiration came as an idea for a feature film, after the Women’s March a few years back. Barreto credits her husband, Rider Strong, for eventually encouraging her to pen the short. Her producing partner, Taylor Feltner then entered the picture, which inevitably led them here – to the Tribeca Film Festival.
“We all have the Goddess within, it’s up to you if you want to free her or not,” actress Natalie Zea says, in character, as she stands in front of a room full of women. Zea plays Premstar, a pretty instructor, who is teaching an all-female seminar on how to live life as a “Goddess.”
The comment comes after Sam, a self-described “guy’s girl,” played by Allyn Rachel, attempts to walk out of the New Agey class. Sprinkled throughout the room, is an eclectic group of women; different ethnicities, different styles, and as we later learn, different insecurities. Some discussion of feminism versus femininity arises before Sam is tagged as a “lady hater” by the group, following her statement about not being into “girly things.”
Barreto pulls from personal experience, referencing back to a Facebook post, which led to some honest discussion about toxic masculinity and the role that women play in it. Once she opened up about distancing herself from other women because of her insecurities, the actress found that not only did other females feel the same way, but by talking about it, it unified women as a whole. On screen, Barreto taps into the same theme. She calls on comedy to help challenge people’s perceptions about womanhood and encourage authentic dialogue around it.
In “Lady Haters,” Sam lists off typical “girly” things that she dislikes (going so far as even to bash brunch), naturally causing the women in the class to take offense. All of the women in the room begin to question their own lives, leading to the ultimate message: honesty. It's not only about being honest with yourself; it's about being honest with others. Eventually, everyone declares their faults, realizing that no one is perfect. The point is, that commonality should bring us together, not drive us apart.
The film leads with a humorous tone, as it examines universal ideas about outer beauty and who gets to decide what being beautiful means. In the end, we’re all just human. Yes, as women, there are a lot of expectations placed upon us, but mostly, we put them upon ourselves.
Jennifer Ortega: I love your film because it's so clever and humorous, but it’s also tackling a very real conversation that we should be having. I read your director’s notes and I wonder if you could touch briefly on the origin of the idea for the film and about the Facebook post and where ‘Lady Hater’ came from.
Alexandra Barreto: For sure. It’s little complicated where the idea came from because it came from a couple of different places. But the original incarnation actually came about because I went to a spa with a good friend and I thought I was just going to get a couple of good massages, have a drink and have a good time. But when I got there I was slightly confused by everything going on around me and I felt like I didn’t fit in there. So I went home and I wrote this short and my friend who I went to the spa with opened up a meditation studio. We went in completely different directions. I actually filmed the movie in her meditation studio. So that was kind of perfect. So I wrote it and when Trump was elected and we all started looking at things and seeing how women were being treated. I then had to really reexamine what I had written. And then also just examine myself and why I had all those feelings. I wrote the Facebook post about being a ‘guy's girl’ almost like an exercise for me to figure out what that meant .As it was all coming about I realized saying you're a ‘guy's girl’ is not a great thing. It's essentially saying I'm better than women because I'm like a guy. I then had to reflect on well why did I think that. Ultimately I realized that it wasn't because I disliked women. It was because I was insecure about being a woman and the way society thinks you should act as a woman. I would then distance myself from women because I was like oh I don't fit that mold and I don't feel feminine and I don't like some of the things that I'm supposed to like. I don't feel like… just the most in a shallow sense like shopping. So yeah I just would distance myself and I realized well that's ridiculous.
Jennifer: That’s why I love the takeaway from the film because we kind of have been brought into this idea of femininity and what it means and if you don't like certain things or act a certain way then you’re automatically a tomboy, but really that’s bullshit. I love the line in the film about being a tomboy that’s not good at sports.
Alexandra: Oh yeah. Yeah, that was that was me. It's like I call myself a tomboy that wasn’t athletic.
Jennifer: I’ve felt like that before, a tomboy that’s really klutzy and has no athletic capabilities.
Alexandra: I was in softball because I could hide out in the outfield.
Jennifer: Oh that was my key position in softball growing up. I was always left outfield far back looking at flies above my head.
Jennifer: In one of your statements you mentioned that you wanted to create a full length film and you were going to submit to a directors lab, but you had to have a filmed sample. I love that your husband was like just make a short. Then you were like, but that’s only three weeks away. He's like yeah so, just make it. I kind of love that because I really feel like that's the way to get things done. Like you really just have to do it.
Alexandra: I thank him all the time for encouraging me to do it. He was totally right. I had the feature version written. And the short I mean it ended up like I really did write it in a day and then within a couple weeks we got it all together and shot it.
Jennifer: The cast is hilarious too.
Alexandra: Natalia Zea & Allyn Rachel are just amazing. And then the rest of the cast...I just didn't want to get extras. I wanted actors. I wrote lines in the script, but at the same time I was like I don’t know if i’ll be able to get to everybody. It’s like 13 people. I didn't know if they were all going to be able to be featured. I wanted to make sure that they were all actors. I got all of them. I was like oh wait you're all great. I just wanted to make sure they all were featured and it worked out.
Jennifer: I kept thinking like I think a lot of these women must be doing comedy. I feel like some of them are doing stand up and I want to check them out somewhere because they were so funny.
Alexandra: Totally. Vivian Vivian Martinez is a stand up comic and there's Naomi Murden who’s an improv actor who's currently doing some musical improv in L.A.
Jennifer: That sounds amazing!
Alexandra: Yeah. They're all they're all doing their own thing so it's great.
Jennifer: Natalie Zea I love. I have to tell you when I was college my guilty pleasure was the show ‘Passions’. So I've been a fan for a long time. I’ve interviewed her before and I’d never say this to her, but when I see her with hre husband (Travis Schuldt) I really want to say I’m so happy Gwen and Ethan (their characters from ‘Passions’) are still together.
Alexandra: I'm so proud of you for admitting that you love ‘Passions’.
Alexandra: Natalie is as a really good friend. We met in acting class. Many moons ago, bJennut that's how we became friends.
Jennifer: I thought she was perfect in this.
Alexandra: She's such a good friend of mine and I knew she got that character in like a new agey sense. Natalie is the woman that when I go out to dinner with her I like struggle and I stare at my closet and I want to cry. She always looks perfect. I can’t compete.
Jennifer: II think we all have that one really good friend that like there's no bother in trying because she's going to look perfect. Even covered in garbage somehow she’ll look perfect.
Alexandra: Exactly. We’re so close and I remember she made fun of an outfit which she didn't mean like in a mean way. But of course that I just broke down in tears and I'm like You can't talk to me like that. But she’s just so great, when I asked her to do the film she didn't even read the script. She just said of course.
Jennifer: She embodies that character so well from the start. I love the how it ends with the mansplainer, the guy who thinks he's helping things out it's like, but in reality it’s so cringy.
Alexandra: That came about because I was at an event with Senator Kristen Gillibrand. It was a mostly female crowd. She came to one of my friend’s houses to speak and it was mostly female. Men were allowed to come, but it mostly was all women. I was talking about how strong we are and this and that and a guy just raises his hand and he's like I just need you all to know you're not strong you are stronger than us.
Jennifer: Oy that’s bad. The funnest things come from truth. Life is way more interesting than anything we could make up. I love films like this that make you think afterawrds about certain topics for days. In your statement you say toxic masculinity definitely is awful and we are never to blame for it, but we definitely have to look inside ourselves and see how as women we've maybe perpetuated some of these same ideals.
Jennifer: You already have a feature length script of ‘Lady Hater’. Are you hoping the short to be like a stepping stone?
Alexandra: Yeah I'm hoping to get this out to the public and like you said kind of get the conversation going and to show that people when they see it, it always strikes the conversation which I love. Like I had a group of women watch it and we talked for hours afterwards about it, about a seven minute short. So I would love to expand that and you know go a little deeper in the feature version. It’s all written and ready to go. We've already got the budget and we've got everything ready to go.
Jennifer: Thank you so much for talking with me! I loved ‘Lady Hater’ and I can’t wait until more people see it! I know it will do great at Tribeca.
Alexandra: Thank you so much!
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Website - www.ladyhaterfilm.com
Tribeca Film Festival: https://www.tribecafilm.com/filmguide/lady-hater-2019