Alex Stapleton knows that some stories do not have fairy tale endings. The Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker is known for her thought-provoking projects and authentic storytelling in sports, music, pop culture and social justice.

Stapleton has dedicated her career of over 15 years to capturing stories that entertain viewers, shift their perspectives and inspire change. She has collaborated with some of the industry’s best documentarians and released projects with top networks, including HBO and Paramount.

As a Black female documentarian in a white and male-dominated field, Stapleton has cemented herself as a force to be reckoned with.

“I knew that I liked storytelling. But I didn’t really understand what a director was,” Stapleton told Blavity’s Shadow and Act.

The Houston native didn’t have the traditional journey into filmmaking. She bypassed film school and began working on film sets after dropping out of college at 18. Her heart was set on scripted projects. This was until she got a call to head to France and produce 2005’s Just For Kicks. The film’s success lit a fuse under Stapleton to take her career as a documentarian to the next level. 

“It was like, wow, we just made a documentary about our culture, Black culture. And what’s cool to us,” she said.

She built her resume in documentaries, working as a producer and director, taking jobs in reality television, and doing whatever projects she thought would get her in the right rooms — a story all too common for Black directors. 

“it has taken a long time for the industry to really see our value,” she said.

Stapleton added that Black female directors are not “monolithic,” and the film industry has been slow to recognize that.

“Just because I’m a Black female director doesn’t mean that my vision is going to be the same another Black female director. We have different tastes. And you know, we’re different types of storytellers,” she said.

In 2021, Stapleton took matters into her own hands and launched her production company, House of NonFiction.

“I feel like I’ve built a little bit of a foundation, so things have shifted a bit. Now, I can curate what I want in a different way,” she said.

In 2024, Stapleton turned the camera on herself in the HBO documentary trilogy God Save Texas, which debuted in February. The series takes viewers on a journey through the controversial states from the perspective of three different directors. Stapleton’s contribution, God Save Texas: The Price of Oil, details the energy industry’s impact on Black communities in the state.

“I’m trying to tell the story about Texas, but there are no Black people in this story. I was like, ‘This is crazy,’ because my family has been here for than almost 200 years,” she said.

She added that although she riffled through endless documentation and materials, she never found anything about the Black Texan experience.

“That’s really concerning to me,” Stapleton said.

She realized her family was the best place to start in documenting the disparities of the benefits from Texas’ oil and energy industries. Stapleton touched on the lack of development, insurance, assistance and funding that Houston promised but failed to provide for its Black residents. Historically Black areas like Pleasantville, where Black families thrived during the Jim Crow era, are now being torn down and neglected.

One soul-stirring moment in the docuseries captured Stapleton’s great-aunt’s home being torn down because the city decided it was easier to demolish her house than help her repair it. The scene was a representation of the erasure of Black families and legacies happening within the state.

“These houses that our grandparents or great grandparents worked really hard to get because they were signing up for that American dream, despite coming out of like a horrific history,” Stapleton said about the homes she called “monuments” that are being removed from the city’s landscape.

Stapleton’s take on cultural relevancy is more than just proximity. In March of this year, her music-meets-technology documentary How Music Got Free debuted at the SXSW Festival in Austin. Based on the book by journalist Stephen Witt and produced with LeBron James’ SpringHill and Eminem, the film narrates the iconic story of music piracy.

Stapleton shares the story of Dell Glover, a native of Shelby, NC, and how his actions as a CD plant worker changed the music industry forever.

Utilizing first-account interviews with Glover, former plant employees, music artists, and executives, How Music Got Free exposes how race and access contributed to the double standard of digital music availability. 

Stapleton weaves an intricate tale of the haves and have-nots that left some behind bars and some with billions. 

“The number one goal of How Music Got Free was to bring Dell to the screen. I wanted to show people that this man is a genius; he is gifted, and he’s innate. He brought his computer when he was in elementary school and ripped it apart, and put it back together again. He never went to college. He barely finished high school. And that’s all because of where’s from,” Stapleton said.

She continued, “I don’t want to hear any more about how great Steve Jobs is anymore.”

Stapleton also has a knack for telling stories surrounding sports. Her acclaimed Showtime feature, Shut up & Dribble, was a powerful look at the evolving role of NBA players in today’s cultural and political environment.

One of her latest efforts, Reggie, received a Critics Choice Award nomination for Best Sports Documentary. It chronicles baseball megastar Reggie Jackson as he contemplates his legacy. 

Stapleton has set her sites on being the voice for the people behind the glossy covers of America’s stories. She’s not concerned with the happy ending but aims to act as a creative outlet for those who have been forgotten or erased.

“I don’t want to continue just to do the same thing where I’m overlooking people that constantly get ignored,” she said. “That is very important to me and everything that I touch.”