Female Filmmaker Friday: Ava DuVernay, Avocate for the Power of Others' Voices

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You might have heard of Ava DuVernay. In recent years, she has become one of the most popular and famous female filmmakers in the world, with good reason.

Ava DuVernay is an American director, writer, producer, and film distributor. She was born in Long Beach, California. During summer vacations, she would travel to the to the childhood home of her step-father, Murray Maye, just outside Selma, Alabama, which would later influence the making of her film Selma.

While most know DuVernay for her filmmaking today, she actually began in journalism and was even assigned to cover the OJ Simpson Trial. Her interest in journalism faded, and she soon turned to the world of public relations. She worked as a publicist before opening her own PR services for shows and films like Spy Kids, Shrek 2, Collateral, and Dream Girls.

In 2005, DuVernay made her first short film Saturday Night Life about a struggling single mom and her three kids and a trip to a discount store. She then moved on to documentaries, filming Compton in C Minor. In 2008, she made her directorial debut with This Is the Life, a history of Los Angeles’ Good Life Café Art’s movement.

The film that pushed DuVernay name out to mainstream audiences came with Selma in 2014 about the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. Though criticized by some for historical inaccuracies, DuVernay has said, “I’m not a historian, I’m a storyteller.” The film went on to be nominated for Best Picture, and won for Best Original Song, “Glory”, at the 2015 Academy Awards.

In 2016, her documentary 13thwas released on Netflix. The film is about race in the US criminal justice system and titled after the thirteenth amendment, which outlawed slavery. It features several activists and public figures such as Corey Booker, Newt Gingrich, Angel Davis, and Van Jones. The film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89TH Academy Awards, and went on to win a Peabody Award in 2017.

Just weeks ago, DuVernay’s latest film A Wrinkle in Time, an adaptation of the book by Madeleine L'Engle, was released. It made over $30 million in its opening weekend. DuVernay is the first woman of color to direct a live-action film with a budget over $100 million, and the second woman, behind Patty Jenkins of Wonder Woman.

With all the accolades from the film and television industry alike, DuVernay has proven she is a fierce force in storytelling. Her voice has opened the door for many coming after her, though she’s not even close to stopping. “Our work is a mirror, a mirror of what we believe.”

Be sure to watch Ava DuVernay’s powerful speech below.