International celeb – Ava DuVernay
Director and screenwriter AVA DUVERNAY, 45, rocks. She’s accomplished a slew of firsts in her career and her star just keeps on rising.
It’s said that everyone has their season to shine, and for indemand American filmmaker Ava DuVernay, her time is now. After running her award-winning film marketing and publicity firm, DuVernay Agency, for 10 years, she switched paths in 2006 and became a director at the age of 32. This, after she was inspired while working as part of the publicity team for the 2004 Jamie Foxx/Tom Cruise thriller,
Collateral. Fast-forward to 2017, and it’s clear that the screenwriter/director is making her mark in a Hollywood still dominated by men, most of them white.
Over the past few years, Ava has been doing a stellar job breaking boundaries for women, especially black women, determined to be taken seriously by the film industry. In 2012, she won the Best Director Award at the Sundance Film Festival for Middle of Nowhere, which she wrote and directed. Bigger accolades were to come with her 2014 drama,
Selma, about Dr Martin Luther King’s renowned 1965 protests during America’s civil rights struggle. It garnered four Golden Globe nominations and two Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture – making Ava the first African-American female director to receive such recognition. It’s just another in a range of firsts that she’s racked up – although she’s aware of what these breakthroughs mean to many black women. “It’s not important to me,” she told
Rolling Stone at the time. “But I know it’s important to other people. It’s bittersweet, because I’m not the first black woman deserving of it.”
She told another interviewer: “I always loved film, but I never considered making my own. I think that’s just … a little black girl from Compton not having any examples of black women making their own movies.”
After releasing her first short film in 2006, it took Ava until 2008 to debut as a full-length feature director with the hip-hop documentary, This Is Life. She went on to direct several more documentaries, including Venus Vs., about tennis star Venus Williams. She has also directed acclaimed fashion and beauty films for US cosmetics brand Fashion Fair and Italy’s luxury fashion house Prada, and several short films. She even directed an episode of the major TV series Scandal, which aired in South Africa as The Fixer.
Last year, Ava scored her first Oscar nod as a screenwriter – another first for a black woman – and went on to win a Peabody Award for her thought-provoking documentary,
13th, which covers the intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in America. She was also awarded a Bafta for Best Documentary from the British film academy for 13th. Currently, she’s the creator of the award-winning TV drama
Queen Sugar (airing locally on Vuzu AMP) and is directing Disney’s science fiction film, A Wrinkle In Time. Its $100-million budget shows that Disney takes Ava seriously as a director – and yes, a budget that size is another first for a black woman. Also this year, Ava was named one of Fortune’s 50 Greatest World Leaders.
In 2011, the screenwriter founded an advocacy group, the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, dedicated to increasing the number of films made by people of colour and women. Born in Long Beach, California, Ava studied English and African-American history at the University of California. She credits her aunt, Denise Amanda Sexton, for getting her into film. At the Time 100 Gala – a dinner celebrating the magazine’s annual list of the most influential people in the world, which, of course, featured Ava – she said of her aunt: “She opened my window to the world, which for me was the Image Cinema. We’d take the bus to the movies and we’d see the movie, and then we’d talk and talk and talk and talk about it afterwards, which for a little girl is a big deal when someone just talks to you.”
In 2015, Ava had a Barbie doll made in her image, as part of Mattel’s collection of six “Sheroes” – perhaps the surest sign of her rise to iconic status. The doll comes complete with a director’s chair and sports Ava’s trademark dreadlocks.
The director is vocal about the struggles of black women in film. Earlier this year, she reminded followers in a tweet that of the 900 top-grossing films that hit the big screen in the past nine years, only 34 were directed by women. In further tweets, she pointed out that only three black women got to direct a topgrossing film between 2007 and 2016. Then she dropped the zinger: “Being one of these doesn’t make me proud. It upsets me.”
So it’s no surprise that Ava remains unapologetically problack in her work, generally hiring black women as actresses and behind the camera. She engaged only female directors for both seasons of Queen Sugar, most of whom were black.
She doesn’t talk about her personal life, so no one knows her relationship status – although she’s been linked to rapper Common, who starred in Selma and created its Oscarwinning theme song, Glory, with John Legend. All Common said about the gossip is: “Ava is one of the great leaders I have been around. She made us all feel that we were part of something special. I see the [Selma] background actors committed and not doing fake things – that’s a testament to the director.”
TOP TO BOTTOM: AVA’S TV HIT QUEEN SUGAR, THE ACCLAIMED SELMA, AND SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL WINNER MIDDLE OF NOWHERE.