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It’s no secret that there’s a lack of women behind the scenes in the world of film and television, especially women of color. Ava DuVernay was well aware of this fact when she decided that she wanted to be a director, but she wouldn’t let the statistics stop her.
While speaking with The New Yorker staff writer Jelani Cobb at the New Yorker Festival on Saturday (Oct. 7), DuVernay discussed her interest in film that inspired her to begin working in what she saw as a white-male dominated industry. “I work in an industry built on the back of the film The Birth of a Nation,” she told the audience. “And so you have, you know, a century of work built on a framework that was flawed and that was exclusive to a certain kind of person and mindset.”
DuVernay has had her fair share of success in the industry, including Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, but she didn’t get into directing for the awards. “I didn’t go to film school. I started when I was a 32-year-old black woman who was a publicist for other people’s movies,” she said. “And I really did it for the pure love.”
“It wasn’t an intention of, ‘One day I’m going to — I just want that Oscar,'” she added as she recalled producing her first documentary, This is the Life. “I was just trying to make my thing and tell my stories, and just wanted to see if I could craft what I loved.”
As she continued to make movies on tiny budgets, DuVernay’s passion for film only grew. At the end of the day, the director’s main goal is to tell stories that matter to her.
DuVernay was thrown into the spotlight after helming the 2014 film Selma, which tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight to ensure equal voting rights through a 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The director’s goal was to portray the icon as more of “a human being” and less as an unattainable public figure.
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