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On the eve of the release of her Disney directorial debut, Ava DuVernay sat down with associate editor for The New York Times Magazine, Jazmine Hughes, for their TimesTalks series in New York City to talk about A Wrinkle In Time, inclusion riders and President Trump.
The film, which she says targets the 8-14-year-old demographic, has a diverse cast and crew both in front of and behind the camera. The film stars Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon. DuVernay mentioned at the TimesTalk the conscious effort she made to put a black female actress as the lead with Reid playing Meg Murry.
“My prayer is that Hollywood does right by that girl. I feel like the sad part of it is that beautiful, black actress, at 14, may never have another part as full-bodied as [Meg Murry],” DuVernay said. “I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week. It’s the first time I’ve articulated it but I just hope this industry does right by her. Like they did by Natalie Portman and Jennifer Lawrence. Because she is just a real light.”
The Selma director also shared how much her own childhood inspired Meg’s character and her experiences, even naming one of the antagonists of the film after her own childhood bully. She also also went into the fears and worries that many people had when she was given the $103 million budget to adapt the classic novel.
“A couple of people told me, ‘this might not be the right next move because it’s unadaptable. You’re not going to be able to make a film that’s a hit out of this book,’” DuVernay said. “But I fell in love with Meg. I saw myself in her. I saw so many girls in her and I wanted her to exist.”
When asked about breaking records during the opening weekend DuVernay bluntly said, “I’ll tell you right now. We are not going to be number one this weekend because there is a cultural movement that is so important to me and so many people called Black Panther and it is still moving and breathing in the world.”
“I am not crying over spilt milk, I’m texting Ryan [Coogler] and saying, ‘Yo, you made $99 million this weekend,” DuVernay said. “As an artist, I can’t be concerned with the first three days at the box office.”
One thing she is concerned with is the current movement in Hollywood. When asked about Frances McDormand’s plea for more actors and actresses to include Inclusion Riders in their contracts, which would require films to have a certain level of diversity in their cast and crew, DuVernay said, “There are allies who are another color, who really walk the talk and we need allies who are not of color and that’s the only way things will change.”
DuVernay also discussed how she keeps sane throughout working on heavy projects like her critically acclaimed Netflix documentary 13 and the historical film, Selma, which she calls the “black, red and green” phase. For her, black is shock, red is anger and green is when she comes to terms and at peace with what’s happening around her. And one of the things she uses this method on is with President Trump’s social media use.
“Depending on what’s tweeted in the middle of the night, I wake up in the morning and look at Twitter and I’m like this is what’s happening with crazy tweeter,” DuVernay said, nodding at the President’s early morning tweets. “But it evolves and changes and once you make it to the green phase, you’re always there.”
DuVernay ended the TimesTalk by giving words of encouragement to other female filmmakers and directors by sharing that she didn’t pick up a camera till she was 32 years old.
“It was almost impossible that I would end up sitting here talking to you about this film, but at 32 I thought to myself this is what I want to do so let me risk it and let me try,” DuVernay said.
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