Ava Duvernay: The Queen of Inclusion

Ava Duvernay is an American director, screenwriter, film marketer, and film distributor who is best known for her works, Selma, Middle of Nowhere, Queen Sugar, and 13th. Though many filmmakers of this era have proven influential, Duvernay stands out from the rest as one of the most notable directors of our time.

Ava Duvernay has taken the title as the first black female director nominated for a Golden Globe, the first black female director with a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture, the first black woman nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and the first black woman to win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival. Her film A Wrinkle in Time, which has a budget of $100 million dollars, makes her the first African American woman to direct a live-action film with a budget of that size. Duvernay’s work is notoriously ground breaking – she sets records and garners critical acclaim with her films, both short and feature, which features predominantly minority casts, compelling storytelling, and stunning visuals.

Duvernay is not just a phenomenal director, but an activist and a leading member of the African American community. Through the founding of AFFRM Now, an independent distribution company that “distribute[s] films made by or focusing on” people of color (and more recently, women), Duvernay has encouraged young filmmakers to create films that showcase diversity and inclusion. Duvernay advocates for black empowerment and representation in the media, her work showcasing a broad range of ethnic backgrounds, gender identities, and sexual orientations.

Her film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time stars Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kalling, Storm Reid, Michael Pena, and Gugu-Mbatha Raw as some of the films leads, which were previously casted as white. Her work transcends race, color, and creed.

A Wrinkle In Time follows the story of Meg Murry, her younger and highly intelligent brother and Meg’s classmate Charles who all work together and venture out to save Meg’s father who is held captive on a far off planet.  The film is based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Madeleine L’Engle with current screen adaptation written by Ava Duvernay and Jennifer Lee.

The trailer appears to capture the essence and concept of time, space, travel with the theme and dramatic conflict in the story which seems to explore the inner workings of nature’s lightness and darkness.  The movie is expected to be released come March 9th, 2008.

Duvernay is an inspiration; She’s unapologetic in her womanhood and in her blackness, which easily makes her stand out from the rest. She makes no qualms about her casting and directorial choices and her mission to “debunk demeaning and normative assumptions about black people, and render black humanity in all manner of genres and complexity” and open doors for women (and she opened many doors in only choosing female directors for her show on OWN, Queen Sugar, which stars Rutina Wesley and premiered in October 2016.)  She does this through her storytelling, which includes people doing things that are not mutually exclusive to race or gender – people living, learning, and loving – but through the scope of the black home and family, which she deems as the “site and source of resilience, memory, cultural transmission, generational continuity and dissonance, and as purveyor of all things affirming of black identity.”

All the more pertinent is Duvernay’s commitment to honesty and “keeping it real.” When she received an Oscar snub for Best Director in 2014 for her work on Selma and the Academy, in response to the #OscarsSoWhite, she tweeted “shame is a helluva motivator,” calling out the fact that it took such backlash to take a step toward inclusion. Even more spectacular was her speech at the 2017 Emmy’s, where she won four Emmy’s for her Netflix original documentary, 13th, and spoke about mass incarceration and reform of the criminal justice system. She said “now, more than ever, it’s important for people who believe in a different way of policing and criminal justice to make our voices heard.”  A woman of many talents, Ava Duvernay’s biggest triumph is her refusal to ignore society’s misgivings in favor of keeping things light. Her forthcoming and sincere nature make her not only a role model for filmmakers, but a role model for anyone who dreams of being in the public eye. She does not back down and encourages others to join the conversation. She advocates for women and women of color to have a voice in Hollywood.

This year, Ava Duvernay found herself on TIME’s 100 Most Influential People along the likes of, Leslie Jones, Riz Ahmed, Donald Glover, Chance the Rapper, John Legend, and other predominant artists of color, politicians Elizabeth Warren, James Comey, and Chuck Schumer, and ground-breaking celebrities and athletes Colin Kaepernick, RuPaul, and Simone Biles. Her appearance proves that her influence transcends fame. In Duvernay’s profile, Venus Williams, who starred in Duvernay’s 60-minute short for ESPN’s Nine for IX entitled “Venus Vs” in 2013, writes that she is an inspiration. She describes Duvernay as a “very special person”, who embraces other people’s perspectives.”  Perhaps that is the crux of Duvernay’s work – she easily captures the emotions and outlook of her characters and of her subjects through her ability to place herself in the shoes of others – which makes for all around captivating story telling that evokes emotion and provokes thought.

Finally, Ava Duvernay’s biggest strengths are her humility and selflessness – she won’t stop at being the first black female director to be nominated and she certainly won’t stop at creating opportunity for herself. She wants to create opportunities for everyone – wants inclusion to become commonplace. “Don’t count on me, I’m one person,” Duvernay said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, “That’s not change. That’s an anomaly…. There needs to be more done than applauding one or two people who make it through your door.”

Rachel Barkley

Rachel Elizabeth Barkley is a recent college alum of Albright College with a B.A. in Digital Video Arts. A film buff and amateur film maker, Rachel has been writing and directing her own works since high school and is an aspiring screenwriter/director. She writes based on her life so her films include quirky dialogue, charmingly crafted meet cutes, and awkward moments that would rival those within a Wes Anderson film.

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