AFI Film Festival 2010
|Born||Ava Marie DuVernay
August 24, 1972
Los Angeles, California
|Residence||Los Angeles, California|
|Alma mater||University of California, Los Angeles|
|Occupation||Filmmaker, screenwriter, marketer|
Ava Marie DuVernay (born August 24, 1972) is an American filmmaker, marketer and film distributor. At the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, DuVernay won the Best Director Prize for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere, becoming the first African-American woman to win the award. For her work in Selma, DuVernay is the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award. With Selma, she is also the first black female director to have a film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
DuVernay was born in Long Beach, California to mother, Darlene Maye (née Sexton), who was born and raised in Compton, California, was a human resources executive at a hospital and later became a preschool director, and father, Joseph DuVernay, Jr. The marriage between Maye and DuVernay ended in divorce. DuVernay grew up in Lynwood, California and Compton, California. DuVernay is the oldest of the five children.
DuVernay's stepfather, Murray Maye, was from Hayneville, Alabama, and owns a carpet and flooring company. DuVernay spent summers in Hayneville with her family, which is a small town between Montgomery and Selma. DuVernay said that these summers in Alabama influenced the making of Selma. Her aunt, Denise Sexton, was a registered nurse and a community theater actress who introduced DuVernay to movies.
DuVernay attended Saint Joseph High School, where she graduated in 1990. Her parents and four younger siblings moved to Montgomery right after she finished high school. 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.
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." But DuVernay said she loved movies and wanted to be around them, so after UCLA she worked as a publicist.
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.
After graduation, she worked for a small studio as a junior publicist. DuVernay worked at FOX, Savoy Pictures and other public relations firms for four years before forming her own agency, The DuVernay Agency, later known as DVA Media + Marketing, in 1999. 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.
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."
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. "Like the characters in the film, DuVernay and her aunt moved to a house on the beach when Sexton was diagnosed with cancer. DuVernay spent two years taking care of her aunt and making her final months as happy as possible." DuVernay made the film in 15 days with her own money: DuVernay "kept costs under $50,000 by staying in one location." 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." 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.
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. The movie was released on December 25, 2014. There was significant controversy about Selma and its depiction of Lyndon Johnson's actions portrayed in the film. 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.
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." 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. "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." 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".
DuVernay expressed frustration at the controversy: "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."
- In 2010, DuVernay directed several network music documentaries, including My Mic Sounds Nice for BET Networks and the Essence Music Festival 2010 for TV One.
- In 2013, DuVernay partnered with Miu Miu as part of their ad campaign Women's Tales. Her short film The Door starred actress Gabrielle Union and reunited DuVernay with her Middle of Nowhere star Emayatzy Corinealdi. The film was later presented at the 70th Venice International Film Festival.
- In August 2013, DuVernay released a second short film through Vimeo entitled Say Yes. The film was sponsored by cosmetic brand Fashion Fair and starred Kali Hawk and Lance Gross. Julie Dash, Victoria Mahoney, Lorraine Toussaint and Issa Rae appeared as extras in the film.
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. The African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) and 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
Influences, journey, artistic viewpoint
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."
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."
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." Ebert wrote a blog post in tribute to his aunt and DuVernay's aunt.
|2014||Selma||Director||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 - Golden Globe Award for Best Director
Nominated - Gotham Award for Best Feature Film
Nominated - Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Director
Nominated - NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Director
Nominated - Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Director
Nominated - Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Director
|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||Won - 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
- In June 2013, she was invited to both the director's and writer's branches of AMPAS. 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.
- "Ava M Duvernay - California, Birth Index". FamilySearch. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
- "Ava O Duvernay - United States Public Records". FamilySearch. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
- Demby, Gene (30 January 2012). "Sundance 2012: Ava Duvernay Becomes First Black Woman To Win Best Director Prize For Middle Of Nowhere". Huffington Post. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
- Barnes, Brooks (27 January 2012). "Market for Films Signals Good, Not Great, Year for Sundance". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 February 2012.
- Dargis, Manohla (27 January 2012). "Amazing Child, Typical Grown-Ups". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 February 2012.
- Savali, Kirsten West (29 January 2012). "Straight Outta Compton: Ava Makes Black History At Sundance!". NewsOne. Retrieved 24 February 2012.
- Myers, Scott (10 June 2013). "Interview: Ava DuVernay — Part 1". Go Into the Story. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
- Farabee, Mindy (20 December 2012). "Ava DuVernay no longer in 'Middle of Nowhere'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
- "Golden Globes: 'Selma's' Ava DuVernay Becomes First Black Woman to Receive Director Nomination". The Hollywood Reporter. 11 December 2014. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
- Suskind, Alex (17 December 2014). "How Ava DuVernay struck a chord with Selma". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- Sperling, Nicole (21 January 2015). "'Selma' and the woman who should have made history: Ava DuVernay". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
- "Ava DuVernay: A New Director, After Changing Course". NPR. 22 October 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
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- Yuan, Jada (2 December 2014). "With Her MLK Drama Selma, Ava DuVernay Is Directing History". Vulture. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
- Zeitchik, Steven (31 October 2014). "'Selma's' Ava DuVernay walks in King's footsteps". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
- 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.
- King, Susan (11 March 2011). "For Ava DuVernay, making 'I Will Follow' is personal". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
- "Murry Maye - United States Public Records". FamilySearch. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
- Levy, Emanuel (10 December 2014). "Selma: Interview with Director Ava DuVernay". Emanuel Levy. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- Rickey, Carrie (5 October 2012). "She’s a Graduate of an Unusual Film School". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
- Edwards, Gavin (5 January 2015). "We Shall Overcome: Ava DuVernay on Making 'Selma'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- "Middle of Nowhere - Writer/Director Ava DuVernay". Filmmaker Magazine. 20 January 2012. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
- "SJ Alumna Receives A Golden Globe Nomination". St. Joseph's High School. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- Wright, Bekah (1 October 2012). "Direct Action". UCLA Magazine. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
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- Brown, Emma (11 October 2012). "In the Middle of Somewhere with Ava DuVernay and Emayatzy Corinealdi". Interview Magazine. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- Ebert, Roger. "Ebert Presents review of I Will Follow". Ebert Presents: At the Movies. Retrieved 24 February 2012.
- Roger Ebert (8 March 2011). "Review of 'I Will Follow". The Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 24 February 2012.
- "Nine for IX: 'Venus Vs.'". ESPN. 26 June 2013. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
- Obenson, Tambay (11 July 2013). "Huge! Ava DuVernay Tapped By Brad Pitt's Plan B To Take Over Lee Daniels' 'Selma'". Indiewire. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
- Jagernauth, Kevin (20 June 2014). "Ava DuVernay's 'Selma' Enters Oscar Race, Sets Christmas Day Release". Indiewire. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
- Chariton, Jordan (8 January 2015). "‘Selma’ Director Ava DuVernay ‘Baffled’ By LBJ Controversy (Video)". The Wrap. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- Schuessler, Jennifer (31 December 2014). "Depiction of Lyndon B. Johnson in ‘Selma’ Raises Hackles". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- Califano Jr., Joseph A. (26 December 2014). "The movie ‘Selma’ has a glaring flaw". The Washington Post. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- Feinberg, Scott (6 January 2015). "'Selma' Director on Lyndon B. Johnson Portrayal: "I'm Not Gonna Argue History"". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- Hornaday, Ann (26 December 2014). "DuVernay, David Oyelowo on breaking Martin Luther King Jr. out of myth and into life". Washington Post. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
- Brody, Richard (29 December 2014). "The Crucial Lessons of Democracy in “Selma”". The New Yorker. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
- Milliken, Mary (6 January 2015). "'Selma' director makes history before awards are bestowed". Reuters. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
- Obenson, Tambay A. (12 July 2013). "Ava DuVernay Will Direct An Episode Of 'Scandal' Next Season". Indiewire. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
- ""The Door" by Ava DuVernay". Miu Miu. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
- Rothe, E. Nina (30 August 2013). "Best of Venice 70: "Miu Miu Women's Tales" - The Door and Le Donne della Vucciria". Huffington Post.
- "Ava DuVernay Celebrates The Beauty of Black Love in "Say Yes"". Shine. 15 August 2013. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
- "Heineken Affinity Award Presented by Tribeca Film Institute". Retrieved 3 December 2014.
- Cieply, Michael (7 January 2011). "Building an Alliance to Aid Films by Blacks". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- Cooper, Nekisa (1 November 2012). "Love on the Outside". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
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- Ebert, Roger (8 March 2011). "A Photo of A Little Girl, and Memories of Two Beloved Aunts". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
- EurPublisher (9 July 2014). "Director Ava DuVernay Inducted into Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority as Honorary Member". Lee Bailey's Electronic Urban Report (eurweb.com). Retrieved 13 January 2015.
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