Ava DuVernay Shares John Lewis' Inspiring Message to Her

Ava DuVernay
Adam Burrell

Ava DuVernay

"It's kept me going, and I'm going to miss him," the filmmaker told Stephen Colbert on Thursday's 'Late Show' as she spoke about her work with the civil rights icon, who died last week.

Ava DuVernay said that the words of late Georgia Rep. John Lewis keep her going. Lewis, who was the last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists, died July 17 at the age of 80.

On Thursday, the filmmaker appeared on A Late Show With Stephen Colbert and reflected on memories of her time with the civil rights icon during the creation of her 2014 Oscar winner Selma. The director said that Lewis told her two words that have since left her striving for more.

"He said, 'Ava, do everything.' He was like Yoda," DuVernay joked with Colbert. "That's one of the gifts that he left for me."

The When They See Us director said that while his remarks initially perplexed her, she's found different ways to interpret the words of wisdom. "On some days 'do everything' means one thing, on another day it means something else," she said.

"It's kept me going, and I'm going to miss him," she added.

DuVernay said that Lewis was "instrumental" in the process of creating the Civil Rights movement-based movie. She told Colbert that she would ask the Georgia congressman about topics ranging from life and work to history.

The host and his guest went on to talk about the surge in streaming views for DuVernay's historical documentary 13th as people have sought to educate themselves amid the movement for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd's death. The director said that while it's unfortunate that incidents of police brutality continue to take the lives of Black people, she's glad her work can inform those seeking to learn more about injustices toward the Black community.

She went on to talk about the special federal forces being deployed against protestors in Portland and other cities, as she and Colbert wondered why they're not seeing much media coverage of the conflict that DuVernay called "jaw-dropping."

"The thing that's been jarring for me is kind of the lack of press coverage, as this is the number one story," DuVernay said as she later thanked Colbert for asking and allowing them to talk about it. "I know we're in the middle of a pandemic and there's a lot happening. But it has just felt to me like there has not been the kind of outrage and response, and the outrage is going to come from coverage of it. I turn on every single network; I'm looking at everything, and this is not the first story or the second story or the third story. And American citizens are being taken in unmarked vans by people, who knows who they are, dressed in military attire with military-grade weapons."

The violence transpiring between government officers and peaceful protestors shouldn't be a partisan issue, she added.

"This is not even a Republican-Democrat issue, this is what our country has supposedly gone into other countries to fight against," she said. 

Watch the interview below.