Ava DuVernay is a black woman filmmaker who makes new image of Black people in movies.
Ava DuVernay is a big damn deal. In 2016, the Selma director juggled two documentaries, 13th and August28: A Day in the Life of a People; a hit TV series, OWN’s Queen Sugar; and her first big budget film, Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, while also dealing with the loss of her father, Murray Maye. Many would crumble under the weight of the pressure bearing down on DuVernay’s shoulders, but the director says her intense schedule has kept her mind off her grief, informs Ebony Magazine
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Still, her triumphs don’t feel as satisfying without her dad.
“I feel grateful for all of it, but I’m also putting it all into context. This year was a beautiful year for me professionally, but also I lost my father,” she says just before dissolving into tears. “When you’re sitting on top of the world, you want to be sitting there with the people who you love. I’d rather him be here than any of this happening,” she concedes.
Yet she perseveres in this powerful moment. When we spoke, she was weeks away from beginning production on A Wrinkle in Time, the first film directed by a woman of color to have a $100 million budget. In an industry where money talks— and Black directors are rarely given anywhere near that sort of cash for their films—Disney’s decision to place such a major project in her hand speaks volumes. The former publicist-turned- indie filmmaker will be expected to deliver, but she’s not worried.
“I don’t feel pressure until a project is getting close to coming out,” she says. “I just focus on the joy of making it. I hope that lasts.”
Though DuVernay has yet to experience a failure in her short tenure as a filmmaker, she insists it’s inevitable. “It happens to every artist,” she says of her refusal to buy into her own hype. Instead, she chooses to focus on telling Black stories. Her latest effort, 13th, spotlights mass incarceration. The toll of imprisonment on Black life is a thread that’s run through many of her projects, including Middle of Nowhere and Queen Sugar.
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“Growing up in Compton and seeing the real-world consequences of police aggression and the prison industrial complex …. This is always something that’s been in me, always something I wanted to tell,” she says of the critically acclaimed Netflix documentary. “It’s not going away anytime soon until we keep talking about it and make the invisible visible.” As a filmmaker, DuVernay uses her art to push back against damaging narratives about Black folks. It’s her way of combating how we’ve traditionally been depicted.
“‘Film is so powerful, because we mimic pictures that people hold in their head,” she says. “When I make a movie, I am really all up in your head. We have to understand the power of those images.”
“That image, the power of the image that’s been used against us for so long as Black people, we have to take it back and use it as a weapon,” she continues. “To use it as a tool of our liberation is one of the things that I try to practice in my filmmaking.”
DuVernay is not only a writer, director and activist, she’s also the founder of ARRAY, an independent film distribution company that helps women and directors of color get their films to the masses. While most would focus on cultivating their own careers, DuVernay’s reason for helping other filmmakers is simple.
“Ain’t no fun being in a room by yourself,” she says. “I like everybody to be winning, and happy. My favorite moments are being around Black people, with everybody happy- feeling seen and heard and enjoying themselves.”
In the end, Ava Duvernay and other black artists is who will push forward black culture in America, abandon old forced images of Black People and create new truthful one.