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PROFILE

Ava DuVernay Guest
Ava DuVernay

Sundance Award-winning filmmaker

Ava DuVernay is the founder of AFFRM, the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement and principal of the DuVernay Agency, a PR firm whose clients include many major studios. Winner of the Best Director Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for her film Middle of Nowhere., she is also the director of Selma and of 13th.

FROM Ava DuVernay

The Business

Ava DuVernay: 13th How busy is director Ava DuVernay? Really, really busy. So busy that the only time she could sit down for our interview was a Saturday afternoon. And the night before, she had been shooting Disney's A Wrinkle in Time until midnight. She's also the executive producer of the TV series Queen Sugar, which starts its second season on the Oprah Winfrey Network later this year. Plus, DuVernay's on the awards circuit. Her film 13th  is in the Oscar race for best documentary feature, making her the first African American woman nominated in that category. 13th refers to the constitutional amendment that abolished slavery in America, except as punishment for a crime. Through archival footage and talking heads, the film reveals how this loophole has been exploited to oppress African Americans, since the days immediately following emancipation, through the law and order presidencies of the 70s and 80s, where the racism was expressed in rhetorical code, but the consequences were very real. 13th also examines the growth of the private prison industry and the exploitation of inmate labor to make everything from missile parts to blue jeans. The film made history last September when it became the first documentary to open the New York Film Festival. A few days later it appeared on Netflix. Until then, DuVernay had kept the project off the radar. She tells us why she kept it quiet, and how the film is resonating now, post-election. DuVernay also talks about why it doesn't bother her not to have a theatrical release, why she made such an effort to include conservative voices in 13th, and about the how the death of her father last year drove her to take on two films and a television series at the same time.

21 MIN, 10 SEC Feb 13, 2017

The Business

'Selma' Like other films based on historical events, Selma  has attracted controversy -- in this case, controversy that arose after we taped our interview with director Ava DuVernay. The issue is the film's depiction of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, with a Johnson historian and some others contending that the film doesn't give the president enough credit for his support of the Voting Rights Act. Others, who covered the events depicted in the film for the New York Times, including Gay Talese,  have defended the movie. DuVernay has not directly engaged in the debate, saying on Twitter: "Bottom line is folks should interrogate history. Don't take my word for it or LBJ rep's word for it." If any filmmaker should be prepared to deal with controversy, it's DuVernay, who had a long career as a film publicist before she started writing and directing movies. DuVernay discusses how she made the transition from promoting films to making them, and how she built her career one step at a time, finding and writing about topics that resonated with her and also worked within a small budget. DuVernay's goal was to make films consistently, not necessarily to make films with bigger and bigger budgets. But she did make a jump when she signed on with Selma, working with a larger cast and larger budget than she ever had before. Before DuVernay got involved, Selma had been passed from director to director, then largely abandoned, except by David Oyelowo, the actor portraying King. In a reversal of the norm, Oyelowo sought out DuVernay and "cast" her as his director. The two had worked together in DuVernay's previous films, ' Middle of Nowhere .' There were still major hurdles to getting the film off the ground, namely that DuVernay didn't have the rights to any of King's speeches, which are private intellectual property. So she set about writing words for her film's version of King herself, a process that she jokes finally put her English and African American studies degree to good use. Now, Selma has made a little bit of history of its own. DuVernay is the first African American woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director.

21 MIN, 51 SEC Jan 12, 2015

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