Ava DuVernay Receives LAFF Honor, Stresses Urgency of Diverse Voices in Film

Ava DuVernay - H 2015
Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Paley Center For Media

DuVernay’s film distribution company ARRAY was honored at the Los Angeles Film Festival with the Spirit of Independence award.

“All of us should be able to see ourselves” in film, stressed filmmaker Ava DuVernay as she received the Spirit of Independence honor at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Saturday.

It was a message expressed by DuVernay and her fellow ARRAY partners (executive director Tilane Jones and marketing and promotions director Mercedes Cooper), who spoke about how their film distribution company cultivates audiences for a diverse range of films. DuVernay also discussed the importance of African-American directors, including Ryan Coogler and Rick Famuyiwa, directors of Black Panther and The Flash, respectively.

“You’re starting to get into a space where we get to see something we have not seen, which are black filmmakers with a hearty amount of resources," DuVernay said during Saturday's LAFF panel, which was moderated by Elvis Mitchell. 

But she added that, unfortunately, "We make these projects within a system that is not built to support various voices. It’s not built to support them, to nourish them, to amplify them. When something does break through, it has to start all over again."

DuVernay founded her company ARRAY in 2010 with a vision to cultivate an audience for a diverse range of films. ARRAY is now planning to expand from two to six releases per year. It’s a strategy that Cooper says helps them reach a broader audience, since DuVernay noted that some films aren't available everywhere she'd like them to be, providing the example that there was no theater to see Selma in Selma and no theater in Compton for Straight Outta Compton.

"It’s not just the fact that a film can do well," said the director, citing Compton's negative coverage in the press. "It’s the fact that there’s community around it, conversation around it, that a film can push a national moment forward, can be a piece of art. All the things that surround films of color seem to be a surprise. It really is just a selective amnesia because it’s not like it hasn’t happened before."

And although DuVernay has been credited with breakthrough milestones such as being the first black female director with a Golden Globe directing nomination, she stated that her successes were thanks to the effort of female and African-American filmmakers that came before her like Agnes Varda, and hopes that more of them can be credited the way she sees her male white counterparts credited with their late influences.

DuVernay also noted that there is a need for all filmmakers of color, as she told the audience that few people can name more than three Latina filmmakers or more than five Native American or Asian directors. 

“Everyone here loves film, yet a whole swath of film, a whole group of filmmakers have been kept from them," DuVernay said. "That pisses me off and I don’t accept it. I want to educate myself. I want to learn. I want see those films and I want to help those films be seen. ARRAY is really about people hearing about what we do and reaching out to us and saying ‘tell me.’” 

Added DuVernay: “The urgency of black film is something at the forefront. People that love film need to seek it out. They need to seek out these things. If they say it’s important to you, you need to seek it out.