This is the second Supergirl Interview where we ask kickass ladies from across the world how they survived those troublesome teenage years and what advise they now have for the next generation of amazing young ladies.
We have someone very special today, someone I have known for a few years and who always stands out as a most creative, inspirational person. Bayou Bennett. Award winning writer and film director, Bayou creates films with her husband Daniel Lir and together they form the husband-wife duo ‘Dream Team Directors’ working with some of the biggest stars in the world.
Bayou and I talk about the subject of ‘being judged’. A terrible subject for many teens and many people in general for that matter! We tackle the question of whether it is possible to live free of that thought: ‘But what will others think of me?’ It’s about time we found out how Bayou, despite the pitfalls of teenagehood, managed to remain true to her heart and stay faithful to her own self.
Tell us a bit about what life was like for you as a teenager…
I was lucky, I grew up in an artistic town that celebrated artists. I was always creating and trying new art forms and activities. My mom was wonderful. She took me to my violin lessons, horseback riding lessons – then my equestrian competitions. I ran cross-country, track, painted and more.
I lived in a small town where we only had cheerleading which I didn’t want to do. So I created the coolest hip hop drill team. We would fill the stadiums with an audience during the half-time show and we were way more popular than the cheerleaders. I was always very happy and bubbly. That’s just who I was and am: active, happy and creating the life I wanted.
Did you ever worry what others thought of you during that time?
I was a leader and was always voted into Student Council and Homecoming every year. I was super nice to everyone (which was natural to me) I even got 2nd runner up in Homecoming when I was an 8th grader. That had never happened before (it traditionally was usually one of the 9th graders). One 9th grader was crying because she wanted it to be her.
Another girl in my grade was super jealous of me and told her dad it wasn’t fair. He went to the school board and got the prize of Homecoming Queen taken away. A teacher that counted all the votes told me that I got the most votes and I would have been Queen that year. I had the dream to have a tiara but it was taken away from me because of other jealous girls.
I started to see the jealousy of other girls trying to oppress me further. I developed quicker than the other girls. Physically, I looked 18 when I was 13. A lot of the boys in school liked me and asked me out on dates all the time. Other girls didn’t like this either. The funny thing is I was too busy creating on activities to worry about boys.
I would always be nice to everyone. But some of the girls couldn’t have it. I remember one girl making fun of my walk during theater class because it was too bubbly. I didn’t care, I think I walked even more happy after I heard about that. 😉
One summer I went away to New Zealand as an exchange student. It was the best summer! I got to go to an all girls school and be part of the outdoor pursuit center where I sea kayaked to uninhabited islands, hiked into the snowy mountains, got welcomed on to the Maori (Native peoples land) and learned their native dance. I was working on myself, bettering myself. I was really living life to the fullest (it seriously looked like something out of the “Lord of the Rings”).
Back home across the world, my group of friends were doing drugs. We were the MOST popular girls in school. We used to go to lunch together every day. When I returned – the girls I would hang out with had changed. They became mean because of the drugs. One of the girls talked all the other girls into not hanging out with me. She said I was too nice and happy. They had changed. My life had changed. I never thought that this would happen to me. I ate lunch ALONE for the first time. I got left out of the slumber parties and heard about it from one of the girls that wasn’t even in my original popular group.
I am glad I stuck to my integrity and did not get negative, or too cool for school, or do tons of drugs. Even if that meant I had to be alone for a bit. I found other creative things to do – like create pottery during lunch. Then I found some friends I could hang out with again and had things in common with.
You are someone I have known for a few years now and it is clear that to me that you live your life without being held back by ‘judging eyes’. How do you manage to be true to yourself?
It’s funny. I have always done my own thing. I went to college in the South and went on a field trip to NYC one summer. I decided right then and there I would move to NYC. I sold my paintings and car and took a train there. It was a huge step but it was the best decision I had made on my own at that time. I worked my way up from working at a theater running the lights to being a graphic artist, to a professional dancer – dancing at the top venues, to a film making Professor at the top schools like Parsons New School (where I was the first women to teach in the media department).
I created a personal documentary “Me, My Father and the Hurricane” which was a favorite at the Hot Springs Documentary film festival and finally I realized as I started to win awards with my husband on our films, that we co-directed/co-wrote, that we had to move to L.A. where film-making was really based. I moved us to Hollywood and we have had our flourishing production company since. You can do what you want and have it all if you just put your mind to it and really believe and are willing to do the work it takes.
Here’s the thing, being a Professor was the safe thing to do. You get a steady pay check and it’s respectable. Being a dancer in my religious extended family’s mind was not appropriate. I didn’t let that affect me. I didn’t share with some of my family what I was doing in dance. I kept dancing and moved on. After some time of great dedication and refining my talents and art, I realized I had hit the top of my games in these professions.
You have to follow your dreams. You can’t have the life that someone else wants for you. It will never turn out good. And you will never be happy.
I have a story to tell you that makes me feel proud that I have been true to myself. There was a kid in elementary school that all the students and even teachers were mean too. I was nice to him however because that’s who I am. He moved away and I never knew what happened to him until years later when I was coming back home from a party.
One of the people I was with got pulled over by the police. He had a lot to drink. He definitely failed his sobriety test. I was really concerned about him and I knew he was going to go to jail. But when the cop saw me, he told me to come outside of the car and said: “Is that you Bayou? You were the only person that was nice to me in elementary school. Because of that, I will let you drive your friend home to thank you. But make sure he doesn’t do it again.” Those are the kinds of things that will happen if you don’t fall into the behavioral patterns of everyone else around you. Be your own person. It was very emotional and I really wanted to share this experience with you.
How do you identify when someone or some group of people are trying to mould you into something you are not? What are the telltale signs?
Ah, yes, I was in a sorority in College. I wanted to join because it looked fun to be in a positive group that created together. I was always an artist, and a leader, and I always knew what I wanted. I started to notice how over-protective my sorority was. Some of the sisters kept calling, wanting me to only hang out with them. They didn’t want me to hang out with my roommate and other friends, and only wanted me to date the people they wanted me to date. I was set up on a blind date with one of the girls’ twin boyfriends. All he talked about was how expensive his car was. That was a real turn off. I was not about that at all. I wanted someone that treated me good and made me laugh. The sorority girls didn’t like that I chose not to date him.
I felt I couldn’t be free to do my art and hang out with ALL my different friends. I felt that some of the girls were trying to mould me into something I wasn’t. I quit the sorority. The girls tried to make it a big deal, I had to give back the sorority pin etc. But I knew for me, I was doing the right thing. I was too free spirited and too much of an individual to fit into the mould this particular sorority wanted me to be in. I am not saying all sororities are like this and I am not saying it’s bad to be in them, I am just saying if it doesn’t fit you and you find yourself doing and being what others want – don’t do it. Be yourself. Life is a lot more fun and fulfilling that way.
How do you deal with judgements that you find hurtful?
Hmm, good question. Being a female director can come with some prejudice. There are a lot more males doing my job. I refuse to dress and act like a man. Did you know in the past film editors were mainly women? The more I get judged by others, like “you are too cute to be smart” – the more I strive to do better at my career. The more judgements or negativity I get from others the more it feeds my internal fire to pave the way for other female directors. And to show the world that women ARE GREAT directors too.
How do you think your life would change if you did start to try and conform to what others want?
I would probably still be teaching and living in the South. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching. It’s rewarding and I still have passion for it. I currently mentor a lot of film students. But I realized I had many messages in my own art and important things to share with the world. I could only affect and help the few students that were in front of me. With film-making I can reach the whole world with my art and messages. And make a better world that way.
What happens when you live your life according to exactly who you are instead of what others wish you to be?
You feel TRULY alive! I really live life to the fullest. I honestly know that when I wake up, I am truly happy with myself, what I do for a living and who I have become. I am not living the life that others wanted. It’s what I wanted. You know the feeling you get when you decide to go out and do what you want, or win something, and you accomplish it? IT’S THE BEST FEELING! And achieve your goals no matter how many barriers are thrown at you. This is how life should be. Play it like a game. You have goals, barrier, opponents, things come up. It’s how you get through those things that makes you a winner in the game of life.
But remember don’t get too serious about it. Sure I might have to work longer hours while running my business but I truly LOVE what I do so it doesn’t even matter. It’s so rewarding because at the end of the day it’s me that I have to answer to. Did I live the life I wanted? Yes! I absolutely did! 🙂 Did people remember me for who I am and for helping them and inspiring them? Yes! Did I create great effects with my art?! YES YES and YES!
Who do you most admire for being just who they are?
My husband Daniel Lir, he has always just been himself. He has never had a 9-5 job he didn’t like. He continues to inspire me daily. He never takes a job he doesn’t believe in (no matter how much money or prestige it will give him). When we co-write and co-direct, he tends to stick to his guns. No matter what other artists are doing. He works harder than anyone I know. He is a TRUE artist. He dresses how he wants. And doesn’t do anything half way. He is very ethical, kind and gives others respect including me – which is really important in a relationship.
He has worked with some of the top celebrities and every day tries to improve himself, his life for me and him. That inspires me. He does not conform to what society thinks he should be. He paves the way for other filmmakers and never gives up on his dreams. I find his ideas very innovative. And no matter what others say or what barriers come up, he pushes through them and wins.
I also admire my father, Washboard Leo Thomas. He is also an incredible artist and environmentalist. A musician in the South – Lousiana and Branson, Missouri. He invented the electric washboard after he saw a Jimi Hendrix concert. The New York Times called him “the Jimi Hendrix of the electric washboard.” He is a leader, always brightens people’s day with his personality and smile.
He has affected every person’s life that he touches in a positive way. He truly has always done what he wanted. He is who he is and people continue to be inspired by him. He tends to always be young at heart too. And joke and play when other adults think you should be serious and a grown up. His heroes are Spongebob and Pee Wee Herman and that says everything about who he is.
I’m glad my dad is an individual and didn’t live his life the way society recommended he did. He blazed his own trails and is a good role model for me in this respect. No matter how many times negative people have tried to squash him – he is still just positive Leo.
Do you, in turn, try to let others be who they are? How do you do that?
Oh yes, that is the most important thing you can do for others. To let others be themselves! Have you ever complimented someone and seen their spirit come alive in their eyes!? That is what you do – you give life to people – when you let them be themselves but also make them feel good to be themselves. 🙂 Try it today and see what happens.
Let’s say there is a teenage girl reading this and she is constantly worrying about what others think. What are the three most valuable pieces of advise you feel you could give to her?
1. Be yourself. If others don’t love you for who you really are, they aren’t your real friends.
2. Junior high and high school can be tough – in terms of fitting in. It can make you feel you have to dress a certain way, or act a certain way, or even do things you don’t want to do. You don’t have to be, do or have any of those things. In fact the more you be, do and have what YOU want, the more you will be alive. And others will eventually follow you. And you will find the friends that love you for you.
3. Keep your integrity in. Integrity means following your moral or ethical opinions and doing the right thing in all circumstances, even if no one is watching you. Having integrity means you are true to yourself and would do nothing that makes less or dishonors YOU.
I am very grateful to Bayou for sharing her life with us so openly. To find out more about the Dream Team Directors go to www.dreamteamdirectors.com