Ava DuVernay

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Ava DuVernay
Ava DuVernay at the AFI Film Festival in 2010
At AFI Film Festival 2010
Born Ava Marie DuVernay
(1972-08-24) August 24, 1972 (age 42)
Los Angeles, California
Alma mater UCLA
Occupation Director, screenwriter, Film marketer, film distributor
Years active 1999–present
Notable work Selma
Home town Compton, California
Website
avaduvernay.com

Ava Marie DuVernay (born August 24, 1972) is an American director, screenwriter, film marketer, and film distributor. At the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, DuVernay won the Best Director Prize for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere,[1][2][3][4] becoming the first African-American woman to win the award.[5][6] For her work in Selma, DuVernay is the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award.[7][8] With Selma, she is also the first black female director to have a film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Early life[edit]

DuVernay was born in Long Beach, California, to mother Darlene Maye, an educator.[9] DuVernay is the oldest of the five children. DuVernay grew up in Lynwood, California[10] and Compton, California.[11][12][13] DuVernay's father, Murray Maye, a businessman, is from Hayneville, Alabama, a small town between Montgomery and Selma.[11][14][15] DuVernay spent summers in Hayneville.[16] DuVernay said that these summers in Alabama influenced the making of Selma, as her father saw the walk through his county as a small child.[11][17]

DuVernay attended Saint Joseph High School, where she graduated in 1990.[18] She graduated with a B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1995, where she double-majored in English and African American studies.[13]

Career[edit]

While in college DuVernay became interested in producing for broadcast journalism. She was an intern for CBS News and worked on the national evening news with Connie Chung and Dan Rather during the O.J. Simpson murder trial. She became disillusioned with journalism, and decided to switch to publicity.[10][19][20]

Public relations[edit]

After graduation, she worked for a small studio as a junior publicist.[19] DuVernay worked at FOX, Savoy Pictures[15] and other public relations firms for four years before forming her own agency, The DuVernay Agency, later known as DVA Media + Marketing, in 1999.[5] The award-winning marketing and publicity firm has provided strategy and execution for more than 100 film and television projects by directors such as Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Michael Mann, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Bill Condon, Raoul Peck and Gurinder Chadha.

Filmmaking[edit]

In 2008, DuVernay made her feature directorial debut with the documentary This Is the Life, a history of LA's Good Life Cafe's arts movement. DuVernay said that while she was trying to raise money for a feature length film, "documentaries were something that I could do for a small amount of money, and then I felt like as long as I found the truth in the stories I was telling as a doc, I could teach myself filmmaking through doc filmmaking."[21]

In 2011, DuVernay's first narrative feature film, I Will Follow, a drama starring Salli Richardson-Whitfield, was released theatrically. DuVernay's aunt Denise Sexton was the inspiration for the film.[5][22][13] DuVernay made the film in 15 days with her own money: DuVernay "kept costs under $50,000 by staying in one location."[13] Roger Ebert championed the film, stating: "I Will Follow is one of the best films I've seen about coming to terms with the death of a loved one."[23][24] I Will Follow was an official selection of AFI Fest, Pan-African Film Festival, Urbanworld and Chicago International Film Festival.

In the summer of 2011, DuVernay began production on her second feature film, Middle of Nowhere. The film was acquired by AFFRM and Participant Media at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where it played in U.S. Dramatic Competition and garnered the Best Director Award for DuVernay, the first African-American woman to ever win the prize. DuVernay also won the Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award for her work on the film.

ESPN commissioned DuVernay to produce and direct Venus Vs., a documentary on Venus Williams' fight for equal prize money for their film series Nine for IX, which aired July 2, 2013.[25]

Selma[edit]

DuVernay directed and co-wrote Selma, a $20 million budget film produced by Plan B Entertainment, about Martin Luther King Jr., Lyndon Johnson, and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march.[26] The movie was released on December 25, 2014.[27]

There was significant controversy about Selma and its depiction of Lyndon Johnson's actions portrayed in the film.[28][29] Former Johnson domestic policy aide Joseph A. Califano, Jr. criticized DuVernay for ignoring and falsifying history, and particularly for suggesting that Johnson reluctantly supported King's efforts and that he set the FBI to investigate King.[30]

In December 2014, at a Q&A moderated by Gay Talese, DuVernay defended her vision, saying "I think everyone sees history through their own lens, and I don't begrudge anyone from wanting to see what they want to see. This is what I see. This is what we see. And that should be valid. I'm not gonna argue history; I could, but I won't."[31] For the film she re-wrote most of the original screenwriter Paul Webb's script with an increased emphasis on King and the people of Selma as central figures.[32][33] "The script was the LBJ/King thing, but originally, it was much more slanted to Johnson. I wasn't interested in making a white-savior movie; I was interested in making a movie centered on the people of Selma."[17] In response to the criticisms of historians and media sources that accused her of irresponsibly rewriting history to portray her own agenda, DuVernay pointed out that the film is "not a documentary. I'm not a historian. I'm a storyteller".[34]

DuVernay expressed frustration at the controversy:[35] "And for this to be reduced — reduced is really what all of this is — to one talking point of a small contingent of people who don't like one thing, is unfortunate, because this film is a celebration of people, a celebration of people who gathered to lift their voices — black, white, otherwise, all classes, nationalities, faiths — to do something amazing."[31]

The film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Song, but not Best Director, by the Academy Awards. While the lack of diversity of the Oscar nominations for 2014 was the subject of much press,[36] especially on Twitter,[37] the film of the only person of color that was nominated for the 87th Academy Awards, Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, ended up taking top honors in four categories at the February 2015 87th Academy Awards - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. The Award for Best Original Song went to “Glory” from “Selma".[38][39] DuVernay stated that she had not expected to be nominated so the omission didn't really bother her; rather she was hurt by actor David Oyelowo not being nominated. As to the question of racial diversity of awards, she stated that the obstacles to people of color being represented in the Academy Awards were systemic.[37]

Television[edit]

DuVernay directed episode 3.08 of Scandal which was called "Vermont is For Lovers, Too".[40]

Future projects[edit]

In 2013, she announced development on a narrative feature film entitled Part of the Sky set in Compton.[41]

In 2015, it was announced that DuVernay would be writing, producing, and directing her next project, which will focus on the "social and environmental" aspects of Hurricane Katrina.[42] David Oyelowo, from Selma, will be part of the project.[43] The film will be "a narrative feature film chronicling a sweeping love story and complex murder mystery set against the backdrop of the devastating hurricane of 2005. It is based on J. Eric's novel, A Place in Heaven, with Leonardo DiCaprio also attached.[44]

In 2015, DuVernay created and executive produced alongside Oprah Winfrey the upcoming drama series, Queen Sugar, which is set to air on Oprah Winfrey Network.[45][46]

In 2015, DuVernay will also executive produce and direct CBS civil rights crime drama pilot For Justice starring Anika Noni Rose.[47]

Other work[edit]

Film distribution[edit]

On January 7, 2011, an article entitled "Building An Alliance To Aid Films By Blacks" by Michael Cieply was published in The New York Times about DuVernay's effort to organize African-American film festivals and orchestrate theatrical releases for black independent films.[57] The organization she created is called the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) and it has released the following films:

  • March 2011: DuVernay's I Will Follow
    • Grossed a per-screen-average of $11,563, and expanded from five screens in five cities to 22 screens in 15 cities after its first weekend
  • December 2011: Kinyarwanda
    • 2011 Sundance Audience Award-winner
  • April 2012: Restless City by Andrew Dosunmu
    • 2011 Sundance Film Festival Official Selection
  • October 2012: DuVernay's Middle of Nowhere
    • Winner of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for Best Director
  • 2013: Storm Saulter's Better Mus' Come and Neil Drumming's Big Words
  • 2014: BP Oil Spill documentary Vanishing Pearls by Nailah Jefferson and 25 To Life by Mike L. Brown

African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement's approach to distribution includes the incorporation of a grassroots collective of local Black film organizations who assist with local marketing and venue booking, as well as local publicity of AFFRM's films. The organizations include:

Artistry and influences[edit]

DuVernay has cited Haile Gerima, Julie Dash and Charles Burnett as her influences as a filmmaker.[64] DuVernay says she belongs to what she calls "'a small sorority' of black female filmmakers, who are part of another modest American sisterhood: female directors of any color."[65] "The idea is not to give women power. The idea is for women to take that power," DuVernay says. "I try to work from a place without permission. I am not working in a permission-based way. I encourage us all to find our own way and not wait."[66]

On a career as a filmmaker: DuVernay said "I never had a desire to be a filmmaker. As a child and a teenager and in college, I was not aware of black women making films."[10]

On how she became a filmmaker: "I was a film publicist, so I represented a lot of filmmakers and I was always around them. I [started thinking] 'They're just regular people, like me, with ideas. I've got ideas.' That's literally how it started. It was definitely a career change; I didn't make my first little short until I was 32. It was kind of intimidating coming in to it so late—all these whippersnappers fresh out of film school, I couldn't do any of that. But I did start to recognize that being so close to really great filmmakers and watching them direct on set and the experiences that I did have, although different from film school, were still super valuable. I learned just from being around. I coupled that with some very intentional study and practice—picking up a camera—and started just making it."[21]

On discussing being a black filmmaker: "Some black filmmakers will say, 'I don't want to be considered a black filmmaker, I'm a filmmaker.' I don't think that. I'm a black woman filmmaker. Just like A Separation is [by] an Iranian, male filmmaker and his film is through that lens, my films are through my lens, and I think it's valuable and fine and worthy to be seen by everyone. So I don't have any problem with this. I like talking about all the amazing black independent filmmakers that are on the scene—there are a good number that are doing great work. And I love talking about the issues that we deal with as women filmmakers, 'cause there's so many—the drastic drop from a woman making her second film to her third film, it drops by, like, 50 percent. Women filmmakers, after the second [film], half of them disappear. That really startled me. That's something that we have to be mindful of as women critics and journalists and actors and directors. So, yeah, I think it's worth talking about."[21]

On Roger Ebert: When she was 8 or 9 her aunt brought her to rehearsals for the Oscars where she saw Ebert, who came over to her while she was screaming, "thumbs up, thumbs up." She got a picture with Ebert that day. DuVernay said that "Ebert's review [of I Will Follow] really got to the heart of what I was trying to articulate. It touched me so much I sent him a picture from the Oscars."[67] Ebert wrote a blog post in tribute to his aunt and DuVernay's aunt.[68]

Personal life[edit]

DuVernay resides in Los Angeles, California.[11] She is an honorary member of the sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.[69]

Filmography[edit]

Year Film Role Notes
TBD Queen Sugar Creator, executive producer, writer and director
2014 Selma Director/Co-writer African-American Film Critics Association Award for Best Director
Black Film Critics Award for Best Director
Black Reel Award for Best Director
Nominated–Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
Nominated–Satellite Award for Best Director
Nominated–Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Director
Nominated–Golden Globe Award for Best Director
Nominated–Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Director
Nominated–NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Director
Nominated–Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Director for Best Director
Nominated–Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Director
2013 Scandal Director Episode: "Vermont is For Lovers, Too"
2013 Say Yes for Fashion Fair Director/Writer Branded Short
2013 Venus Vs. Director/Writer Television Documentary
2013 The Door for Prada Director/Writer Branded Short
2012 Middle of Nowhere Director/Writer U.S. Directing Award: Dramatic (2012 Sundance Film Festival)
2011 I Will Follow Director/Writer Narrative Feature Film
2010 My Mic Sounds Nice Director/Executive Producer Television Documentary
2010 Essence Music Festival '10 Director/Writer Television Documentary
2010 Faith Through the Storm Director/Writer Television Documentary
2008 This Is the Life Director/Producer Feature Documentary
2007 Compton in C Minor Director/Producer Short Documentary
2006 Saturday Night Life Director/Writer Narrative Short

Awards, nominations, honors[edit]

  • In June 2013, she was invited to both the director's and writer's branches of AMPAS.[70] DuVernay was only the second black woman, following Kasi Lemmons, to be invited to the director's branch.
  • Duvernay became the inaugural recipient of the Tribeca Film Institute's Heineken Affinity Award, receiving a $20,000 prize and industry support for future projects. DuVernay donated all the money to the black arthouse film collective known as AFFRM.[71]
Year Award Category Work Result
2011 African-American Film Critics Best Screenplay I Will Follow Won
2012 Black Reel Awards Best Screenplay Nominated
Best Director Nominated
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Independent Motion Picture Nominated
Sundance Film Festival Directing Award Middle of Nowhere Won
Grand Jury Prize Nominated
Film Independent Spirit Awards Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award Won
Humanitas Prize Sundance Film Nominated
African-American Film Critics Best Independent Film Won
Best Screenplay Won
Best Picture Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Best Woman Screenwriter Nominated
Women Film Critics Circle Josephine Baker Award Won
2013 Black Reel Awards Best Director Won
Best Screenplay Won
Best Film Nominated
Gotham Awards Best Feature Nominated
2014 Online Film Critics Society Award Best Director Selma Nominated
Black Film Critics Circle Best Director Won[72]
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Best Director Won
Breakthrough Film Artist Won
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award Best Director Nominated
Georgia Film Critics Association Best Director Nominated
Breakthrough Award Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Director Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Best Director Nominated
Best Woman Director Won
Female Icon of the Year Won
Critics' Choice Movie Awards Best Director Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Director Nominated
Film Independent Spirit Awards Best Director Nominated

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Barnes, Brooks (27 January 2012). "Market for Films Signals Good, Not Great, Year for Sundance". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 February 2012. 
  3. ^ Dargis, Manohla (27 January 2012). "Amazing Child, Typical Grown-Ups". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 February 2012. 
  4. ^ Savali, Kirsten West (29 January 2012). "Straight Outta Compton: Ava Makes Black History At Sundance!". NewsOne. Retrieved 24 February 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c Myers, Scott (10 June 2013). "Interview: Ava DuVernay — Part 1". Go Into the Story. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  6. ^ Farabee, Mindy (20 December 2012). "Ava DuVernay no longer in 'Middle of Nowhere'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  7. ^ "Golden Globes: 'Selma's' Ava DuVernay Becomes First Black Woman to Receive Director Nomination". The Hollywood Reporter. 11 December 2014. Retrieved 11 December 2014. 
  8. ^ Suskind, Alex (17 December 2014). "How Ava DuVernay struck a chord with Selma". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 January 2015. 
  9. ^ "Ava DuVernay: A New Director, After Changing Course". NPR. 22 October 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
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  12. ^ Hardy, Ernest (11 October 2012). "Middle of Nowhere Director (and Former Rapper) Ava DuVernay on the Future of Black Film". LA Weekly. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
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  50. ^ "Ava DuVernay Celebrates The Beauty of Black Love in "Say Yes"". Shine. 15 August 2013. Retrieved 3 December 2014. 
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External links[edit]