Ava DuVernay: Dreams Worthy of Life

She is the epitome of a self-made woman: motivated and persevering. Recently named a woman who just might change the world by Elle Magazine, she’s renowned, visible and revered. The first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award, she’s a history maker. But this publicist turned filmmaker is a prime example of what happens when unstoppable passion meets out of the box action. Ava DuVernay, writer, director, producer and distributor of independent films, is the personification of unexpected, but well deserved fame.

Ava DuVernay arrives at the AFI Awards at The Four Seasons Hotel on Friday, Jan. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Ava DuVernay arrives at the AFI Awards at The Four Seasons Hotel on Friday, Jan. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Having never attended film school, DuVernay’s journey to filmmaking is unique. “I just embraced the idea that this was going to be a gradual exploration of the thing I was interested in–making films–and gave myself permission to go slowly,” she told Jezebel, a women’s interest magazine. “I didn’t beat myself up for the fact that I had a day job. I considered how I could strengthen myself through my day job so that one was feeding the other.” But this cool, calm and collected Duvernay didn’t always exist. Just last year, she spoke about her intense desperation to create films. At the 2013 Independent Film Forum, she explained, “I was begging for all the things I thought I needed when I simply realized,” she told the audience, “that there is a difference between being hungry and passionate and desperate and depressing.” Though cognizant of the hardships, she was determined to push forward.  Putting action behind her dream, Duverney used $50,000 dollars she had in savings to create I Will Follow, a one location life affirming film about the loss of a loved one.

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Sacrificing the money she intended to use to purchase a home, Ava DuVernay launched her career. With the help of generous contributions and borrowing cameras and equipment from executive producer Howard Barish, her dream began to flourish. Released in 2011, the film went on to win the African American Film Critics Association award for best screenplay. Just a year later, she wrote, directed and distributed Middle of Nowhere, winning a Sundance Film award for best director. Though her movies are often based on easily relatable stories, they are not all based on narratives she’s written. In fact, other DuVernay films include: documentaries about Compton, hip hop, the Essence Music Festival, Venus Williams, John Legend, and short films created for fashion brand Miu Miu. Regardless of the film’s subject, DeVurnay readily admits she’s drawn to showcasing black magnificence in all of her work.

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Compton born but UCLA educated, DuVernay always had an eye for noticing social issues and moments of humanity in what often feels like an inhumane world. Selma, her most recent and notable film, illustrates her knack for pointing out the rhythms of humanity. In an interview with Atlanta Magazine, she explained that “the extraordinary thing about what he,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “did is that he was an ordinary person like you and me. You see what people can do when they have passion, a cause and a mission. Part of getting that story across was to show that he was like you and me. He had an ego. He had a temper. He got jealous. He liked to laugh and joke. He liked to dance.” DuVernay’s focus on the humanity of her protagonists is what moves her audiences, propelling them to actions, which in return, yields change.

Change. The very word seems to emanate from DuVernay’s films and persona. Her shoulder length dreadlocks, often hidden under a colorful beanie and casual clothing give off a warm hope that change is possible.  Her sincere yet about business smile and demanding mannerisms remind casts and crews under her leadership that at the same time, change is a serious mission. Her film distribution company, African American Film Festival Releasing Movement illustrates such a mission. Working to achieve, “a wider theatrical distribution for the independent films,” the organization is a call to action, as well as an invitation to change in Hollywood.

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Ava DuVernay has hit the film industry like a quiet storm. She came to the industry with the hopes of making a name for herself, she saw a gap in the type of films being produced and she’s conquered quite a bit of awards: 2011 African American Film Critics Best Screenplay, 2012 Sundance Film Festival for Directing Award, 2013 Black Reel Award and 2014 Black Film Critics for Best Director. Now, she’s up for Golden Globe, and possibly even and Oscar. She’s directed everything from Sleepy Hollow to Scandal. But truth be told, Ava never expected to get into film until she worked on Collateral as a publicist.

Regardless, there’s one thing we can all agree on. Evident by her labor, her passion, and her long list of accolades, the buzz surrounding her name is well deserved. Fingers crossed we can add a Golden Globe to the list.

-Sharita Gilmore