It’s no secret that Ava DuVernay’s Selma, very likely the most important American movie of 2014, also served as a litmus test for how the Hollywood establishment views racism, how it views women of color directors, and how it views honest art made about black people. (It also further solidified that the Oscars are bullshit.)
DuVernay took a measured stance with the Oscars, but she has long discussed the obstacles and nuisances she faced while making Selma from higher-ups. At the Tribeca Film Festival this week, in conversation with Q-Tip, the director highlighted the difficulties of trying to realize an artistic vision when box-office bureaucrats are breathing down your neck. “It was interesting because I’m used to writing, directing, producing my own stuff, putting my own crew together, no one is telling me anything except answers to specific questions I have,” she said, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “Telling me your opinion when I haven’t asked you is the studio way.”
Such diplomacy! More important, DuVernay told the audience that because of the impossible structure of the movie-making business, she’s about to move on to television, working on two new projects that sound like the future of our collective DVRs. She’s working on Queen Sugar with Oprah’s OWN, about a young LA woman who returns to her Southern roots, and also directing the CBS show For Justice, which, sign me up:
“There’s something in the piece that I want to be on television,” she said excitedly. “It’s about this elite group of freedom fighters that work for the DOJ, and they’re a combination of lawyers and FBI agents. Every week they solve a different civil rights abuse. So every week, the country will be able to see a case solved about anti-Muslim sentiment, or something around Ferguson or a transgender murder. These elements, in the umbrella of a procedural, you’re actually able to give some information about people on the outside, on the margins. I love that.”
YES. DuVernay also discussed specific artistic decisions that deeply spoke to the need of diverse directors, particularly women of color—for instance, the very act of how a director lights black and brown actors on camera. “We were playing with the idea of how black people look in dark rooms,” she said, according to the Reporter. “When I go in my house at night, the light’s not on—what does that look like? So often, folks are afraid to put in darker hues against backdrops because you’d only see teeth and eyes, you know what I mean? That’s not necessarily the case, and sometimes it is the case, and it’s beautiful,” she explained. “We were always playing with the idea of the black body, and deconstructing that in all types of ways.”
On a day when a Women in Film study reported that women directors are still stereotyped for making films “for a less significant portion of the marketplace,” as Deadline put it, it is edifying to the core to read DuVernay on such important topics, and discussing her artistic decisions so deliberately. She said,
“My mission in all of my work, truly, is to magnify the magnificence of black people, which is basically a longer way of saying, ‘black lives matter,’” she said. “If we don’t do it, who’s gonna do it? If a woman filmmaker doesn’t take special care of a woman character, who’s does it? It’s not gonna be the man. … It’s not gonna be the filmmaker that doesn’t know it. There are some instances where special things shine through, but overall, it’s no one else’s responsibility to make the things that I want to see. If I want to see them, then I need to make them, if I’m able, and I am.”
We are lucky to live in the time of Ava DuVernay. Read the rest at the Hollywood Reporter.
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