She's a critically acclaimed creator of motion pictures, documentaries, tv series, and short films, and the first Black female director to have her film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. We're highlighting today during Black History Month the singular Ava DuVernay.
How You Know Her
She was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director, and her film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar for 2014's "Selma," which told the story of MLK and the voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery during the civil rights movement.
Her acclaimed 2016 documentary "13th" (named after the 13th amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery) tells the story of the "intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States." The doc was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary and won the Emmy for Outstanding Documentary.
She wrote, created, and directed the 2019 four-part series "When They See Us," based on the 1989 Central Park jogger case where five Black and Latino youths were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman. The series was nominated for 16 Primetime Emmy Awards.
She also directed the Disney kids fantasy film "A Wrinkle in Time," based on Madeleine L'Engle's popular book. It is the first film by a Black female director to earn more than $100 million.
This past year, DuVernay was elected to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science's board of governors, as part of the directors branch.
Their Life So Far
DuVernay grew up in Long Beach in the '70s and '80s and would spend time during her summers in her father's hometown of Selma, Alabama, not far from where her dad witnessed the historic Selma marches for voting rights.
After graduating high school, she attended UCLA and majored in African American studies and English literature. Her first interest post-college was journalism, and DuVernay worked as an intern for CBS News, covering the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Later, though, she moved into PR, forming her own company DVAPR in 1999, which created campaigns for several high profile movies, including "Spy Kids," "The Terminal," "Shrek 2," "Collateral," and "Dreamgirls."
At the same time, she started her own career as a filmmaker, starting with the short film "Saturday Night Life" in 2005, about a single mom taking her kids to an LA discount grocery store. She followed up in 2007 with the short "Compton in C Minor," and made her feature length documentary debut with the hip hop tale "This Is the Life" in 2008.
Her first feature narrative film was "I Will Follow," about the death of a beloved family member, which debuted in 2011. In 2012, with her second film, "Middle of Nowhere," she became the first Black female director to win the Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
Beyond big screen projects like "Selma" and "A Wrinkle in Time," tv series like "When They See Us" and "Cherish the Day," and documentaries like "13th," DuVernay's been commissioned to work on special projects like the Smithsonian's "August 28: A Day in the Life of a People." That 22-minute film, featuring stars Lupita Nyong'o, Regina King, David Oyelowo, Don Cheadle and more, depicts historic Black figures at critical moments in history that all occurred on August 28. Among the events: the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till; MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech; and Barak Obama accepting the Democratic nomination for President.
The Movie to Watch
"Selma" is a powerful and unforgettable look at not just MLK, but all of those who participated in the marches for voting rights in 1965. It is a critical moment in our country's history, which resulted in The Voting Rights Act that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. DuVernay is able in the film to cast both an intimate and broad view of the events, which are still so relevant today. Watching the difficult, courageous work that was done is a reminder of the work still left to do to honor these men and women and achieve true equity for everyone.
What's Up Next
Last summer, it was announced that DuVernay would be working with Colin Kaepernick on a six-part series for Netflix called "Colin in Black & White." She's also slated to direct a film based on the book "Caste" by Isabel Wilerson, which examines the way racism in the US can be related to a caste system based on notions of hierarchy.
More Black History Month Highlights:
About the Author
Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.