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Ava DuVernay has been working in publicity, entertainment, and filmmaking for many years now, but in the past year she has made huge strides in not only her art, but in advancing the conversation around race in America.
In mainstream film in America, representation of anyone who is not white and male is met with challenges and qualifiers like “sidekick” or “sexy nurse” that reduce too many characters of color to costumed caricatures.
Ava DuVernay is a black woman telling black stories featuring black characters who are fully realized. For a black actress like me, that makes her a wizard on the level of Gandalf or Dumbledore, and yet I hesitate to strip her of the very humanity that her work affords me through representation.
Rather, I celebrate Ava DuVernay as a human woman doing extraordinary things, and beyond that, guess what?
She’s not alone!
In my lifetime, I’ve seen the mainstream Hollywood movie machine transform from The Gold Standard of movies to something more akin to a creaky old machine that seems irreplaceable, but the truth is that many of us only use it a few times a year when it used to be a weekly affair. Like a lovable old granny, every now and again some horrifically racist shit comes out of her, but we understand she’s old and we keep it moving.
People are making movies on their iPhones now. We don’t need granny. We need Ava. And Matthew. And Ryan. And Kasi. And Rashaad. And…
As I type these words, Ava DuVernay is presiding over a Twitter takeover using the hashtag via her film distribution collective which stands for African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement. And it is a movement indeed. Begun by Ms. DuVernay herself, AFFRM scouts festivals and connects audiences to the films they want to see; films that were made with passion and stories to tell that would go ignored by major studios and potentially never get distribution. Black films.
Before directing, Ms. DuVernay helmed a successful marketing and publicity firm, and I can’t think of a story that marries practical industry knowledge and artistic vision better than hers. She founded AFFRM to get her own work to audiences, telling Entertainment Weekly,
“Before Selma, I had distributed all of my films through AFFRM. I had never had any studio interaction, so the visibility that I gave myself by making sure my films had an audience through AFFRM put me in a position to make Selma. I think it’s important that other filmmakers have that opportunity and that visibility. We talk about the end game; something like Oscars comes and everyone complains and rightly so—that there is not a more realistic mix of filmmakers, actors, the whole nine yards. But you have to think, ‘How do you get to that point?’ and we can’t get to that point if filmmakers don’t have an opportunity to have their work seen.”
Oh, the Oscars. I wrote in this very space how personally disgusted I was with the overwhelming whiteness of this year’s Oscars. In fact, most of the internet did, particularly citing a lack of nomination for Ms. DuVernay in directing Selma.
But this is not about a lack of anything. The 40+ names on the list pictured above are not lacking in anything. They are black filmmakers making movies today, and right now they’re taking over Twitter. These are not some establishmentarians looking down at the commoners from behind the studio gates. They are us, and they’re telling our stories. And they need our help.
AFFRM has released 8 feature films to date, and with the wealth of talent making art that we want to see, it will distribute many more. Ms. Duvernay has said that she pours her directing profits back into AFFRM, and for the past few weeks the truly grassroots organization has held its second annual membership drive, with AFFRM Rebel memberships beginning at just $40.
Rebelling is exactly what we’re doing. Rebelling against not only the old guard, but also against the head-scratching complacency that leaves such a large void between all the thinkpieces about “diversity” and actual change reaching our screens.
As Ms. DuVernay has said, “Every dollar [donated] goes to the distribution of films by moviemakers ignored by studios. Join our tribe and stand with us”
In an absolutely priceless incentive, today’s Twitter Rebel-A-Thon #ARRAY Twitter Takeover is Twitter at its best—voices we might not otherwise hear from on such a large scale telling us directly what they’re working on and how we can help get their art seen on a large scale. They’re chatting, they’re giving sneak peeks, they’re taking questions, and we’re all winning.
This is what success looks like. This is what freedom looks like.
I say these things to in no way minimize the potential marginalization present for a contemporary film director who is so unapologetically black and female and singular of vision and boiling over with talent. I say it to celebrate a success that is not contingent upon the accolades of the Academy or the permission of the establishment. I say it to honor a woman whose work and mission inspires me every day. This is not a protest post. This is a love song.
Join this impeccable list of black directors in conversation on Twitter today, scheduled for Q & A slots beginning as late as 10PM EST.
Listen to their voices and revel in their stories. Affirm their talents, and encourage their continued success. This is the progress that true trailblazers like Ava duVernay are capable of, and I salute the hard work she’s put in and how far she’s come at the same time as I say she’s only getting started.