Ava DuVernay Will Co-Chair Prada’s Diversity and Inclusion Council

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Ava DuVernay

DuVernay tells THR she feels "connected" to the house since the beginning of her career: "Two calls came through and one of them was from Prada ... when I really felt like I wasn't going to have a place in the industry."

Prada is reacting to recent accusations of blackface with their announcement that director Ava DuVernay will become co-chair of its diversity and inclusion advisory council.

DuVernay will help “elevate voices of color within the company and the fashion industry at-large,” according to a Wednesday announcement from the brand, along with her fellow co-chair and artist Theaster Gates.

Other unannounced leaders and academics will make up the diversity and inclusion council, which will help the Italian house invest in diverse creatives; create opportunities for students of color in fashion; partner with universities for internship programs; and sponsor scholarships and training in every Prada office in the world.

"I have a relationship with them," DuVernay told The Hollywood Reporter at a Feb. 21 pre-Oscars event. "When I won Sundance for best director, the phone didn't ring. Two calls came through and one of them was from Prada. ... The second in command there said, 'We'd like you to come and make a short film with us, using our clothes.'" 

Prada gave DuVernay a "beautiful budget" and she cast Gabrielle Union to star. "I made this film at a time when I really felt like I wasn't going to have a place in the industry. So I'm connected to them in that way," DuVernay told THR

CEO Miuccia Prada said in a statement about the board: “Prada is committed to cultivating, recruiting and retaining diverse talent to contribute to all departments of the company. ... In addition to amplifying voices of color within the industry we will help ensure that the fashion world is reflective of the world in which we live.”

The initiatives come after the company was accused of blackface in December for selling dark-colored, monkey-like figurines with large red lips in its Manhattan store. 

On top of vowing to remove the items, a Prada Group spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter at the time that Prada Group "abhors racist imagery." The brand said the Pradamalia items are "fantasy charms" and "imaginary creatures not intended to have any reference to the real world and certainly not blackface.”

DuVernay explained to THR why she decided to help even after the incident. "I don't know what the hell happened with that product, but when they called me and said, 'We don't know what we've done, will you help us?' I said yes because I know what they did for me," she said.

On Feb. 7, Gucci also decided to pull apparel from its stores after an item was dubbed a "blackface sweater." Due to the racist designs, BlacKkKlansman director Spike Lee said he would boycott Gucci and Prada until the houses hired black designers.

Gates, an activist and executive director of Chicago’s Rebuild Foundation for arts and culture, said Wednesday in a statement that his “work amplifies the voices that have been absent from broad cultural conversations" and he is happy to partner with Prada "to advise on processes that will make the company and industry more reflective of the world today.” 

DuVernay (A Wrinkle in Time), a leading voice in Hollywood for diversity and inclusion, announced in February 2018 the Evolve Entertainment Fund in partnership with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to fund 150 internships for women and people of color. In 2010, DuVernay also founded the distribution collective ARRAY, a grassroots company to distribute films by people of color and women.

She is working on the Netflix limited series Central Park Five and recently served as guest editor for Time magazine’s art of optimism issue. 

Feb. 22, 11 a.m.: Updated with DuVernay's latest comments.