Ava DuVernay

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Ava DuVernay
Ava DuVernay 2015.jpg
Ava DuVernay at SiriusXM Studios on January 6, 2015
Born Ava Marie DuVernay
(1972-08-24) August 24, 1972 (age 44)
Long Beach, California, United States
Nationality American
Alma mater UCLA
St. Joseph High School
Occupation Filmmaker
Notable work Selma
Website www.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] For her work in Selma, DuVernay was the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award.[6][7] With Selma, she was also the first black female director to have her film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Early life[edit]

DuVernay was born in Long Beach, California.[8] She grew up in Lynwood, California (near Compton)[9] and graduated in 1990 from Saint Joseph High School in Lakewood.[10] At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), she was a double major in English and African-American studies.[8][11][12]

During her summer vacations, she would travel to the childhood home of her father, Murray May (which was not far from Selma, Alabama).[13] DuVernay said that these summers influenced the making of Selma, as her father saw the Selma to Montgomery marches as a small child.[14]


Her first interest was in journalism, a choice influenced by an internship with CBS News, where she was assigned to help cover the O.J. Simpson murder trial.[11] She became disillusioned with journalism however, and decided to move into public relations, eventually opening her own public relations firm, The DuVernay Agency.[8][11][15][16]


DuVernay made her feature directorial debut in 2008 with the documentary This Is the Life, a history of LA's Good Life Cafe's arts movement. DuVernay began with documentaries because they can be done on a smaller budget than a feature film, and she could learn the trade while doing so.[17]

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.[18] The film cost DuVernay $50,000 and was made in 14 days.[16] Roger Ebert called it "one of the best films I've seen about coming to terms with the death of a loved one."[19][20] 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 on July 2, 2013.[21]

In 2015, DuVernay was in consideration to direct and possibly co-write Marvel Studios' Black Panther film. According to reports it was between her and Creed director, Ryan Coogler, with Coogler ultimately getting the job later in the year.

DuVernay was commissioned by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to create a film for the museum's opening. August 28: A Day In The Life Of A People tells a story through events that happened on the same date over history, August 28th. The 22-minute film includes Lupita Nyong'o, Don Cheadle, Regina King, David Oyelowo, Angela Bassett, Michael Ealy, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Andre Holland and Glynn Turnman. It focuses on events surrounding the murder of Emmett Till, Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, Hurricane Katrina and the night then-senator Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president at the 2008 DNC. [22]


DuVernay directed Selma, a $20 million budget film produced by Plan B Entertainment, about Martin Luther King, Jr., Lyndon B. Johnson, and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march.[23] The movie was released on December 25, 2014.[24]

There was significant controversy about Selma and its depiction of Lyndon Johnson's actions as portrayed in the film.[25][26] 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 sent the FBI to investigate King.[27] For the film she did uncredited re-writes of most of the original screenwriter Paul Webb's script with an increased emphasis on King and the people of Selma as central figures.[28][29] 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".[30]

The film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original 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,[31] especially on Twitter,[32] the film of the only person of color that was nominated for the 87th Academy Awards, Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu, ended up taking top honors in three categories at the ceremony – Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. The award for Best Original Song went to "Glory" from Selma.[33][34] 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.[32]


In July 2016 the New York Film Festival made the surprise announcement that 13TH, a documentary directed by DuVernay, would open the festival. Until the announcement no mention of the film had been made by either DuVernay or Netflix, the film's distributor.[35]


DuVernay directed episode 3.08 of Scandal which was called "Vermont is For Lovers, Too".[36]

In 2015 DuVernay executive produced and directed the CBS civil rights crime drama pilot For Justice starring Anika Noni Rose.[37] It was not picked up for distribution.

That same year DuVernay announced she would be creating and executive producing the upcoming drama series, Queen Sugar, alongside Oprah Winfrey. The drama was set to air on Oprah Winfrey Network.[38][39] In 2016 DuVernay announced that actress Rutina Wesley had been cast in the lead role.[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, a fictional account which will focus on the "social and environmental" aspects of Hurricane Katrina while including a love story and a murder mystery.[42] David Oyelowo, from Selma, will be part of the project.[43]

In 2010, it was announced that Disney retained film rights to adapt the novel A Wrinkle in Time.[44] Following the success of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, Disney announced the hire of Jeff Stockwell to write the screenplay for Cary Granat and his new Bedrock Studios. Cary Granat had previously worked with Disney on the Chronicles of Narnia and Bridge to Terabithia films.[45] The project's budget is $35 million, which the company compares to District 9 and Bridge to Terabithia, both of which had less than $30 million.[46] On August 5, 2014, Jennifer Lee was announced as the screenwriter taking over from Stockwell, who wrote the first draft.[47][48] On February 8, 2016, it was reported that DuVernay was offered to direct the film, and she was confirmed to direct later that same month.[49][50] A Wrinkle in Time began filming in November 2016.

Other work[edit]

Film distribution[edit]

See also: ARRAY

In 2010 DuVernay began AFFRM (the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement) her own company to distribute films made by or focusing on black people.[60]

In 2015 the company rebranded itself under the name ARRAY, promising a new focus on women filmmakers as well.


Year Film Role Notes
2018 A Wrinkle in Time Director
2016–present Queen Sugar Creator, executive producer, writer and director
2016 13TH Director/Writer Documentary
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)
2010 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.[61] 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 she founded known as AFFRM.[62]
  • In June 2015, Duvernay will be honored as part of Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards with the Dorothy Arzner Directors Award.[63][64]
  • In April 2015 DuVernay was chosen as one of Mattel's "Sheros" of 2015. As such a custom-made one-of-a-kind Barbie in DuVernay's likeness was produced. The doll was auctioned off with the proceeds given to charity.[65] Due to high demand, a collectible version of the doll was produced and sold in December of that year.[66]
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[67]
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
2016 Grammy Awards Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media Nominated


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  27. ^ Califano Jr., Joseph A. (December 26, 2014). "The movie 'Selma' has a glaring flaw". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 13, 2015. 
  28. ^ Hornaday, Ann (December 26, 2014). "DuVernay, David Oyelowo on breaking Martin Luther King Jr. out of myth and into life". Washington Post. Retrieved January 20, 2015. 
  29. ^ Brody, Richard (December 29, 2014). "The Crucial Lessons of Democracy in "Selma"". The New Yorker. Retrieved January 20, 2015. 
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  33. ^ "List of 87th Academy Award Winners". ABC News. Associated Press. February 23, 2015. Retrieved February 23, 2015. 
  34. ^ "Oscars 2015: A Look at Biggest Latino Oscar Winners of the Past". LatinPost. February 22, 2015. Retrieved February 23, 2015. 
  35. ^ Cox, Gordon (19 July 2016). "2016 New York Film Festival to Open With Ava DuVernay Documentary 'The 13th'". Variety. 
  36. ^ Obenson, Tambay A. (July 12, 2013). "Ava DuVernay Will Direct An Episode Of 'Scandal' Next Season". Indiewire. Retrieved December 3, 2014. 
  37. ^ Goldberg, Lesley (March 10, 2015). "'Selma's' Ava DuVernay 'For Justice'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 9, 2015. 
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  45. ^ Fernandez, Jay (October 14, 2010). "Bedrock taps Jeff Stockwell to adapt 'Wrinkle'". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 10, 2010. 
  46. ^ "Granat Launches Family-Oriented Bedrock Studios (Updated)". March 17, 2010. Retrieved June 27, 2010. 
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  50. ^ http://collider.com/a-wrinkle-in-time-movie-ava-duvernay-disney/
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  53. ^ "Ava DuVernay Celebrates The Beauty of Black Love in "Say Yes"". Shine. August 15, 2013. Retrieved December 3, 2014. 
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  58. ^ Canfield, David (March 18, 2015). "SXSW: The 7 Best Things We Learned From Ava DuVernay's Keynote Speech". Indiewire. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  59. ^ Abramovitch, Seth (March 14, 2015). "SXSW: Ava DuVernay Calls Oscars a "Room in L.A." at Rousing Keynote". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 19, 2015. 
  60. ^ Cieply, Michael (January 7, 2011). "Building an Alliance to Aid Films by Blacks". The New York Times. Retrieved January 13, 2015. 
  61. ^ Weisman, Jon (June 28, 2013). "Film Academy Invites 276 New Members". Variety. Retrieved December 3, 2014. 
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  63. ^ "Women in Film, Los Angeles Celebrates 2015 Crystal + Lucy Awards Honorees: Nicole Kidman, Jill Soloway, Ava DuVernay, Kate Mara, Sue Kroll and Toni Howard" (PDF). Women in Film. Retrieved April 1, 2015. [permanent dead link]
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  65. ^ Lee, Benjamin (24 April 2015). "Holding out for a Shero: Selma director Ava DuVernay gets her own Barbie doll". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 December 2015. 
  66. ^ Cunningham, Todd (6 December 2015). "Ava DuVernay Barbie Doll to Go on Sale Monday, Director Says". TheWrap. Retrieved 7 December 2015. 
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External links[edit]