Black History Month: Ava DuVernay

The much anticipated Black Panther film opened in theaters this weekend, and it is breaking all kinds of records. Another film releasing soon and eagerly awaited by audiences is A Wrinkle in Time, directed by Ava DuVernay. In 2015, DuVernay was in consideration to direct and possibly co-write Black Panther, but decided against it.

Director Ava DuVernay by Marie Maye at AFI Film Festival and SAG "BreakThrough" Filmmakers Party
Director Ava DuVernay by Marie Maye at AFI Film Festival and SAG “BreakThrough” Filmmakers Party

Ava DuVernay is a director, producer, screenwriter, film marketer, and film distributor. She was the first African American woman to win the U.S. Directing Award: Dramatic award in 2012 at the Sundance Film Festival with her 2nd feature film, Middle of Nowhere. DuVernay was the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award as well as an Academy Award for Best Picture for her work on the film Selma. In 2017, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film 13th — one of the most critically-acclaimed films of 2016. A Wrinkle in Time, a film that reportedly has a budget exceeding $100 million, makes DuVernay the first black woman to direct a live-action film with a budget of that size.

DuVernay was born and raised in California. At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), she was a double BA major in English literature and African-American studies. Her initial career 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. She became disillusioned with journalism however, and decided to move into public relations, working as a junior publicist at Fox, Savoy Pictures, and a few other PR agencies before opening her own public relations firm, The DuVernay Agency. She also launched the Urban Beauty Collective, the African-American blog hub Urban Thought Collective, Urban Eye, and HelloBeautiful. DuVernay worked as a marketer and publicist for 14 years.

In 2005, DuVernay decided to take $6,000 and make her first film, a short called Saturday Night Life based on her mother’s experiences. “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.” After that, she moved to making documentaries, because “the 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, she released her first narrative feature film, I Will Follow, a drama. The film cost DuVernay $50,000, was made in 11, 14, or 19 days (depending on who you ask), and was inspired by her aunt’s struggle with breast cancer.

DuVernay has also worked successfully in TV, most notably and recently creating and executive producing the drama series Queen Sugar. 

In 2010 DuVernay began AFFRM (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement), her own company to distribute films made by or focusing on black people. She also owns Forward Movement, a film and television production company. In February 2018 it was announced DuVernay, along with producer Dan Lin and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, launched the Evolve Entertainment Fund. The fund’s mission is to promote inclusion and provide an opportunity for underserved communities to pursue a dream in the entertainment industry. In 2018, DuVernay won Entertainer of the Year at the 49th NAACP Image Awards for her work in 2017.