Feminist Hero Friday: Ava DuVernay

by Abaki Beck

This week, it was announced that Ava DuVernay would be the first woman of color to direct a film with a budget over $100 million; a small and select group of people. She was chosen to direct A Wrinkle in Time by Walt Disney earlier in the year. Though she was a “first,” she noted that it was a shame that she was, as many more women of color directors throughout history deserved to have their stories be told and celebrated by mass audiences as well. This week, we celebrate DuVernay as our Feminist Hero.  

Her first film, This is the Life, was a 2008 documentary about the arts movement in a Los Angeles health food market the Good Life Cafe, which curated a workshop like atmosphere that encouraged poets and artists to hone their craft, both through performance and freestyle. It became well known for hosting open mics that created a space for the 1990s West coast hip hop movement to develop and flourish.

She made her debut in fictional film with I Will Follow, which was shot in fifteen days, self funded and had an incredibly small budget of $50,000. Despite this, it made the official selection of several film festivals, including the Pan-African Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival. The film follows a black female artist contemplating relationships, life, and love after the death of her aunt, who she had left work to care for.

DuVeray is perhaps most well known for her film Selma, released in 2015. Selma follows the activism of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his relationship with President Lyndon B. Johnson. The film focused on the stories of individuals who lived in Selma and civil rights movement activists. Some criticized her for portraying the President too negatively, as the film shows him as being reluctant to support King’s demands. This film earned her nominations for a Golden Globe for Best Director and an Academy Award for Best Picture; she was the first black female director to have been nominated in either category.

There are very few female directors, and even fewer female of color directors who receive such national attention as DuVernay has. Between 2008 and now, she went from self-funding her films to being the first woman of color to direct a film with a budget of $100 million. In addition to this huge budget film, her upcoming projects include a film set in Compton and a film about the environmental and social impacts of Hurricane Katrina. She has a true passion for storytelling.

Film is an important form of storytelling, as it is not only oral but visual, transporting us to new places and meeting new people (or perhaps, meeting ourselves in a new way). Empowering women of color storytellers and creatives is vital because it elevates voices that are so often silenced. Women of color see and interact with the world in a different way than white men, who Hollywood so often promotes as the “neutral” and dominating visionary. Elevating stories told by women of color empowers communities of color, educates other communities, and ensures that a wide range of (hi)stories are visible and celebrated in the media. DuVernay is part of this fight, and because of her, more marginalized stories will be heard. We celebrate her hard work, tenacity and brilliant storytelling ability as she helps pave the way for other women of color directors.