For the month of April, we decided to find a woman whose contributions and achievements should not go unnoticed, so we chose film director, screenwriter, and producer Ava DuVernay.
You may or may not know who she is, but you have surely come across her work. Either in her Oscar-nominated films Selma and 13th, the television series "Queen Sugar", Jay-Z’s ‘Family Feud’ music video, or more recently, the film adaptation of the classic novel, A Wrinkle in Time. After earning numerous accolades and making history by becoming the first African American woman to receive a Golden Globe nomination for best director, Ava DuVernay has become one of the most prominent African American directors in Hollywood. But how did she become the amazing director that you see today? You may be shocked to discover that DuVernay did not take the traditional route to the film industry. Unlike many directors, DuVernay did not attend film school; instead she majored in English and African American studies at UCLA and went on to work as a publicist for years before deciding to pick up a camera at the age of 32. DuVernay started off creating several smaller-scale films such as This is The Life and I Will Follow, before gaining recognition at the Sundance Film Festival for her film, Middle of Nowhere and eventually creating her groundbreaking film, Selma.
What makes DuVernay so inspiring is that she does not simply direct films, she creates change in doing so. Her films put representation of African Americans into the spotlight in ways that are seldom seen in most films. In the series “Queen Sugar”, for example, DuVernay highlights vulnerability through its genuine, nuanced characters that do not hold back from expressing emotion. In the same series, DuVernay ensures that other women are given opportunities in the film industry by solely hiring women to direct the episodes of the first two seasons. Outside of the show, DuVernay also works to provide opportunities to those underrepresented in the industry through her film collective, Array, which promotes the work of women directors and people of color. In her most recent film, A Wrinkle in Time, DuVernay’s showcase of representation serves as inspiration to young girls of color, who are rarely represented in the science fiction genre. For instance, in this adaptation DuVernay chose to feature a “brown girl” played by Storm Reid, as the protagonist. Other women of color like Oprah Winfrey and Mindy Kaling starred as supernatural beings that guide Reid’s character throughout her journey.
Additionally, DuVernay educates by telling the untold stories of those who fought to secure equal voting rights for African Americans in Selma and calls attention to the injustices that still remain in 13th; A documentary which focuses on the mass incarceration of African Americans in the United States as a result of racial inequality in the criminal justice system.
I would be remiss not to mention DuVernay’s amazing hair, which she unapologetically wears in locs and by doing so, hopes to encourage others to embrace their natural hair as well. In an Instagram post, in which she reflects on her hair journey, she expresses her love for her hair with this message:
"I grew up going to the beauty salon with my Mom or getting my hair pressed in the kitchen by my Gramma. I've had every style. Short bobs. Long weaves. Braids of all kinds. But when I saw this picture in @hollywoodreporter this morning, I smiled at the crown that now adorns my head. And hope some little girl somewhere comes across this image and sees magic too. #onward"
Lastly, DuVernay, is inspirational because she is a key example that no matter what age, you can always go after your dreams. Despite not attending film school and starting her film career later than most filmmakers, she was able to build her technique by taking directing classes and consistently listening to directors’ commentaries on DVD. Most importantly, DuVernay stresses that it is never too late to change. In an interview on the talk show, The Real she emphasizes that “The path that you’re on does not always have to be the path that you end on. You can always evolve.”
Her talent, tenacity, and wisdom are just a few reasons why DuVernay is such an inspiration to women and why she is this month’s artist/activist of the month.
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