Filmmaker and director Alex Stapleton, a Duchesne Academy alum who graduated in 1998, left Houston shortly after graduation and has traveled around the world since then. Yet to this day, her Sacred Heart education continues to influence her work and has driven her to succeed in positions often not held by women.
"I really do credit my determination and willpower to survive in this business to a few things, and one of those is definitely going to an all-girls school," said Stapleton. "Spending all of middle school and high school in an all-girls environment probably changed my life."
After graduation from Duchesne, Stapleton moved to New York City to attend Pace University but quickly realized that she could have a career in filmmaking and started an internship with an independent production company. She was hired on as an assistant and then worked her way up assisting directors on various productions. She began working on bigger productions and expanded her professional network, and she was able to direct her own film by the time she was 26. Her directorial debut was the filmCorman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, a documentary about famed film producer Roger Corman which featured interviews with Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, and Ron Howard among others. The film received critical acclaim and was selected for the Sundance Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival.
"I didn't realize this at the time, but there are only 82 women who have ever competed at Cannes with their films and who've walked the red carpet, and I'm one of those 82 women," said Stapleton.
She later went on to win an Emmy for her work on a local PBS news documentary series, specifically an episode that explored criminal justice reform and issues surrounding wrongful convictions. Stapleton chose to cover that topic because it's a major injustice that she wanted to expose. In other episodes of the series, she explored issues including the #BlackLivesMatter movement and immigration.
Over the course of her career, much of Stapleton's work has focused on social justice. She worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a show called TakePart World which took her to a number of developing countries to create content showcasing humanitarian initiatives to help impoverished communities. She recently completed a documentary series for Showtime with LeBron James called Shut Up and Dribble about the changing role of athletes in the current political environment.
"The social justice education that we got a Duchesne is really ingrained in me," said Stapleton. "Making impact-driven content is something that drives me as a creative."
Stapleton has also worked on a number of projects highlighting female athletes. She's interviewed some of the world's top athletes including Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn and tennis legend Chris Evert. Stapleton was also part of the famous "Thank You, Mom" Olympic campaign that profiled Olympians and told the story of how their mothers helped them to become world-class athletes.
As a female director in an industry dominated by men, Stapleton has faced a number of challenges during her career but always overcame them with grit, grace, and a self-confidence that was instilled in her at Duchesne. Now, as she is further along in her career, she's working to make sure more women are represented in Hollywood both in front of and behind the camera.
"I was conditioned as a young girl from my mother, and then also by going to Duchesne, to realize that community matters and your role as a piece in a bigger whole is very important," she said. "I still have that attitude, but now I am all about supporting the community of female filmmakers and working with women. I'm an executive producer and director now, so, I'm in a place where I can actually hire women to work with me."
Stapleton is currently working with Chelsea Handler on a Netflix documentary and nearly 90% of the staff on the production are female, which is typically unheard on film sets.
Although Stapleton's career has taken her far from Houston, she's recently made a point to get more involved with Duchesne. Through a film that she's doing for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), she was able to provide an opportunity for several Upper School girls to meet with Priscilla Chan, co-founder of CZI and wife of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Stapleton also hopes to come and speak with the Upper School girls about her career path and how attending a Sacred Heart school impacted her.
In fact, a Sacred Heart connection made because of Sr. Sharon Karam, RSCJ helped Stapleton get hired for a project featuring some of Hollywood's top celebrities.
When Stapleton was at Duchesne, Sr. Karam said to her, "you remind me a lot of Salma Hayek." Sr. Karam had known Salma Hayek at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, Louisiana where Hayek was a student before becoming an award-winning actress.
Years later, after hearing this comparison from Sr. Karam, Stapleton was meeting with Salma Hayek who was considering hiring her for a job to produce a series of videos.
"When I told Salma about Sr. Karam, she was like 'oh my god, you went to a Sacred Heart School?!' and it was this instant crazy sisterhood," said Stapleton.
After that conversation, Salma Hayek hired her for the job.