Ava DuVernay: 13th

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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.




Kim Masters


Kaitlin Parker