Ava DuVernay, David Oyelowo Debate Hollywood's #MeToo, Diversity Efforts: "We Have to Keep Pushing"

National Day of Racial Healing at Array - Getty - H 2019
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Laverne Cox and Judd Apatow were among those at the panel discussion on diversity, marking the National Day of Racial Healing.

“In light of the recent revelations about R. Kelly, what can black men do better to support black women?” asked director Angela Robinson, kicking off the first panel of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and ARRAY Alliance's “National Day of Racial Healing” with a bang.

For the event, A Wrinkle in Time filmmaker and ARRAY founder Ava DuVernay gathered filmmakers Judd Apatow and Eva Longoria, musician Melissa Etheridge, author Jacqueline Woodson, poet Robin Coste Lewis and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, among others, for an afternoon of conversations on Tuesday about racial healing. The occasion, held at DuVernay's ARRAY campus in L.A.'s Historic Filipinotown, was the third annual National Day of Racial Healing, established by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.  

Tough questions were both asked and answered on the panel “Race and Representation,” with Apatow, Longoria, Robinson and David Oyelowo taking turns in the hot seat. In response to Robinson’s question about R. Kelly, Oyelowo said, “When it comes to these individuals, we have to acknowledge that what these women are saying is true and their voice must be heard. It’s been said for a long time, and I think the music world, somehow, is getting a pass, and that really has to be looked at.” 

Longoria pressed the other filmmakers on their commitment to the diversity cause, as she commits to working with 50 percent female directors and people below the line in 2019.

“I committed to that 10 years ago,” Oyelowo fired back.

Robinson, for her part, said she was committed to making her crews look like the world. Half of the directors on Crashing, said Apatow, were diverse hires. “If you pay no attention, you’ll wind up hiring everyone that looks exactly like you, and I hope there comes a moment for everyone where you realize how wrong that is. And it takes so little to change that: It’s one call to your line producer, where you say, ‘Let’s make sure we’re diverse,’” Apatow said. “You have to want to do it.”

Oyelowo addressed the hushed conversations about what he expects will be a consequence of Time’s Up and #MeToo. “I have a fear that these men who now feel marginalized will have an insidious need for revenge. Is my fear warranted or not?” he asked Apatow.

Apatow responded, “I think it probably is warranted. It could be unconscious. Whether it’s an unconscious bias or not, there is a resistance to a lot of this change, and it’s the quietness of the resistance that’s worrying.”

Oyelowo also asked Longoria when it would be time to include redemption in the Time’s Up and #MeToo conversation, as he worries that without it, the movement will have an expiration date. Longoria paraphrased an Amber Tamblyn essay in her response, saying, “I’m thinking about my liberation, it’s too soon to think about your salvation.”

She agreed that including men is an important part for the movement because ultimately the movement does not exist to convince women that they are in the right. “The Civil Rights movement wasn’t for black people, it was for the everybody else who didn’t agree with that. So the Time’s Up movement is for everybody else to say, time’s up on abuse of power,” Longoria said.

Throughout the five-hour day, a recurring theme became acknowledgment of one's own shortcomings and blind spots. On a panel about identity and inclusion, actress Laverne Cox recalled the moment she realized she could not “reclaim” a derogatory word used to describe gay men. “My brother says, ‘You’re not a gay man, you can’t reclaim that word’ and the third time he said it, I started crying,” she told the audience. “It was a really painful moment, to understand that I’d hurt someone. It’s important to think about the consequences. We have to be vulnerable enough to admit we’ve done something wrong. We have to tell the truth to ourselves first.”

Robinson, who has been working with DuVernay in the Women of Color group in Time’s Up, says that in order to solve some of the problems the industry is facing one needs to to continue to have bolder conversations. “I was happy that everybody was challenged by Ava to really argue and speak their truth,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think this is one of the few times in the past year where I feel we’ve been able to have a deep, substantive conversation without hurt feelings.” 

As for her fears about backlash to the movement, the Professor Marston and the Wonder Women director feels what there is to gain far outweighs the risks. “You wouldn’t tell a Civil Rights Movement [activist], ‘What if there is a backlash?’ Of course there will be — does that mean you should not seek your civil rights? And what is the backlash going to be? We won’t get the jobs we weren’t getting to begin with?”

There are also some concrete changes from the past year that give the director hope that things are on the right track. “I’m going to Sundance where, for the first time ever, it is 50-50 for women directors in competition. A year ago that would have been considered an outlandish idea, and now it’s happening,” she said.

As dozens of industry representatives gathered for a class picture at the end of the day, DuVernay was encouraged by whom she had managed to convene under the roof of her new campus. “I have this kind of conversation within my work, but to actually create a convening was a little outside my comfort zone,” DuVernay told THR.

While the industry has rallied to be more inclusive in the past few years, the filmmaker thinks it’s a subject that still needs to be diligent about. “Certainly, change is not here. We’re mid-stream. The question is, are we going to float backwards or make strides to go forward?” she said. “I feel like we’re in a bit of a malaise, and folks are starting to rest on laurels of having one or two people in the room, but it’s not quite in our bloodstream. It’s not the beating heart of the industry yet. So we have to keep pushing.”