As a writer/director, I am passionate about telling character driven stories. I enjoy discovering a historical figure who has, for whatever the reasons, been overlooked and bring their story to light.
I first learned about Gertrude Bell several years ago, and was completely enthralled by her fascinating, yet little known, story. History has long glorified the adventures and exploits of men such as T.E. Lawrence, the celebrated "Lawrence of Arabia," yet few people are aware that the architect of the Kingdom of Iraq was a woman. Born into the freedoms and confines of the British upper crust, Gertrude found her heart in the Middle East. An Arabist, adventurer, and linguist (12 languages), Gertrude was the first female British Intelligence officer and a trusted confidante of Arab sheikhs. During World War I, she played a crucial role in establishing the British-Arab alliance that helped defeat the Ottomon forces in Mesopotamia. She drew the borders of Iraq and saw Faisal I crowned its first King. One of King Faisal I's most trusted advisors, Gertrude was revered as Iraq's uncrowned Queen.
Growing up, it was disheartening how few female role models we learned about in school. If women were even acknowledged, their stories were too often told through the defining filter of the male gaze. Where were the women’s stories? It wasn’t until I was a student at a former women’s college, and the contributions of historic women trailblazers were a requirement in our curriculum, that I discovered a shift in my conscious thought. And it changed everything for me. Integrating my interest in women’s stories with my passion for film, I analyzed the representation of women throughout film's history, both in front of and behind the camera, beginning with early film pioneers Alice Guy Blaché and Lois Weber. As inspiring as it was to see the critical role women played in the development of the film industry, it was discouraging to see how badly they have been marginalized ever since and therefore, not surprising to see how many female characters in film became caricatures lacking true complexity and depth.
And this is what drew me to Gertrude. Here was a woman of fascinating contraditions: an ardent royalist yet tireless advocate for Arab self-rule; a fiercely independent woman yet an Anti-Suffragette; an intellectually formidable debater yet forever childlike in her father's presence. I found this intriguing.
Determined to be an instrument of change, I made a promise to myself that I would one day direct a film that told the story of a remarkable woman – a complex, multi-faceted female protagonist; a trailblazer who determined her own path in life and who wasn’t defined by her relation to a man. In short, I would tell the story of a real woman through the female gaze.
Kingmaker is my passion project, and it is fulfilling that promise I made to my 20-year old self. It is a triumphant, character driven story of learning to trust your heart, of conquering your own self doubt and finding the courage to stand up for your beliefs. I believe that Gertrude’s story deserves to be told through the female gaze – her life, her legacy, is not defined by her relationships with men but by her love for the Arab people.
- Alexa-Sascha Lewin