Meet the Director: Street Heroines' Alexandra Henry

Still from Street Heroines

The term street art typically conjures up images of gang signs, rebellious teenagers, and men. But did you know, not only are street artist becoming more respected–last year, infamous street artist Banksy sold a piece for $1.4 million–but women street artists are getting the respect they are due. Since the street art boom in the 1970s, women like Lady Pink, Charmin 65, JDL Street Art, Negahamburguer, Kashink, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Shamsia Hassani and many more have been covering walls, parks, and buildings with their own creative swagger.

In a new documentary, director Alexandra Henry travels the world interviewing these artists. In Street Heroines, she and her crew (Zahra Sherzad, Jordan Noël Hawkes, Diana Eliazov, Simone Cassas) document the courage and creativity of female graffiti and street artists in New York City, Brooklyn, Mexico City, Chile, Ecuador, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Japan, Spain, and France.

In advance of the screening at SAAM on November 13 at 6:00 pm, we had the chance to catch up with Alexandra Henry and learn more about the women who are taking street art to the next level.

What inspired you to make Street Heroines?

I was inspired to make a documentary that gave underrepresented women a voice. I had my ‘ah-ha’ moment when I saw two girls painting at 5Pointz in Queens back in 2012. We had a brief chat, I took their photos and we exchanged contacts to keep the conversation going. I quickly realized how little I knew about women in the street art/graffiti culture. When I did some of my own digging online to see what else was happening with the women’s participation, I found very little. So, I decided to help tell their stories, write them into the history of one of the largest art movements today.

What was the most challenging part of making the movie?

This has been a passion project, ongoing now for seven years and is the first feature-length film I have directed. It’s hard to keep up the steam on independent projects that have little to no funding, and, at the same time, have a full-time job that pays the bills. I’ve realized that if I don’t put energy into this project every day, no one else will. The other challenge for me has been writing the script, which in documentary filmmaking a lot of times comes after you have shot everything. You must transcribe the interviews and footage, in this case up to four languages, and decide which anecdotes are the strongest. There are so many powerful statements from the more than thirty women I have interviewed, so it’s difficult to choose.

Cropped photo of director Alexandra Henry

Alexandra Henry. Photo by Ethan Scarduzio.

What was the most fun part of making the movie?

The most fun part of the filmmaking process is connecting with people, with the artists, with the film crew, and with the communities we get to meet along the way. This project has taken me to about eleven countries, sometimes alone to shoot and other times with a small crew when there are funds. Street Heroines has become my ultimate excuse to selfishly travel the world while at the same time fueling the social causes of women on a global level. There is a balance there and I feel very grateful to have deepened my own human experience as well as that of others. 

Do you have a favorite street art style?

Yes and no. I love character driven graffiti, especially illegal walls, that involve more risk. I appreciate clever messaging too, whether through words or images. In the film you hear about the ‘pixação’ style in Sao Paulo, which is native to the city and how without ‘pixo’ Sao Paulo wouldn’t be Sao Paulo. That is what graffiti is for me, the language or expression of a city, that even if you can’t read it, you still understand that “wow something is going on here.”

What’s next for you and your team?

We want to keep Street Heroines going as a docuseries and are looking for production partners to make that a reality. I work in the branded content space as a producer and feel like there are opportunities to turn Street Heroines into an immersive documentary experience, through a six-part episodic series, traveling to Africa, Europe, and Asia. In addition, we have devised an educational impact strategy to further educate young women on the business and creativity of being an artist. It can be integrated into art institution programming, like at SAAM, for example, as well as high school curriculum. And well personally, I would like to direct more, perhaps a short narrative next.

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Everyone wants to be seen. Street art is just one avenue women are using to express themselves and challenge the status quo. In the film, Fusca, from Mexico, said it best. “I really like to challenge the conceptions and go beyond the concepts of what it means to be a woman.” Street Heroines gives voice to women fighting social injustice with creativity in a male-dominated subculture.

Join us at SAAM for a screening on November 13 at 6:00 p.m. A conversation with the film’s director, Alexandra Henry, and George Washington University Documentary Center Director Nina Gilden Seavey, immediately follows. 

Ryan Linthicum is public programs assistant at SAAM.