Ava DuVernay Unsure How 'Wrinkle in Time' Will Be Received
The Oscar-nominated director talked about making movies in “an industry built on the back of the film 'The Birth of a Nation.'"
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.
While she's proud of the film, she has one major regret. "It's the only time in the industry where I feel I really betrayed myself, because I wrote that script," she said. She explained that the writing credit was taken away from her because of agreements within the film's contract. The valuable lesson she took from the experience is "when you betray yourself, it never works, right? Because somebody gets hurt, and it's you."
During the conversation, DuVernay also previewed her upcoming adaption of A Wrinkle in Time. The director admitted, "I don't know how it's going to be received." DuVernay finds the concept of the film, based on the 1963 Madeleine L'Engle novel of the same name, very important for viewers to see. "It is about a girl saving the world, and that girl is a girl of color," she said.
"She's like saving the world. She's saving the world from darkness," said DuVernay of the main character, Meg Murry, played by Storm Reid. "And in the film, darkness is defined as the darkness within us. She's saving us from ourselves."
A Wrinkle in Time is the first film DuVernay said she is truly hesitant to release out into the world. "With 13th, I was, 'You know what. I don't care. This is what I want to put out. If people get it, they get it. If they don't, I’m on to the next,'" she said. "With Selma, I was like, 'You know what, I'm nervous. It's my first thing that kind of has a faux pas, but I know that I believe in this. I know that this is a record, and it needs to be there. Some other people are going to get this.' This, I don't know."
DuVernay has accepted and embraced that her vision for films is going to be different from that of the majority of Hollywood directors. "You're seeing worlds being built through the point of view of a black woman from Compton," she said. "So when I'm told create a planet, my planet is going to look different from my white male counterpart's planet, who we've seen 97 percent of the time."