If you ask Ava DuVernay what genre she prefers, she replies, “I want to play the whole sandbox,” and that’s exactly what she does, with her fingers in various accomplishments, writing and pie making in. this moment. With his Netflix documentary 13th on the way out, his OWN TV show Sugar queen racking up impressive ratings, and now leading the over $ 100 million Disney sci-fi movie A wrinkle in time, DuVernay does it all.
After directing the Oscar nominated film Selma, she found herself in high demand, but first on the to-do list was 13th-an exploration of the ways in which the US criminal justice system is weighed heavily against people of color. Compressing 100 years of history into 100 quick and extremely moving minutes, the resulting film was the first documentary to open the New York Film Festival.
But DuVernay didn’t take a break to pull himself together. “I have a certain window,” she said, “and during that window I want to do whatever I can. There is no director I can turn to who has a 30-year career in this country, and there are very, very few filmmakers of color, especially black filmmakers, who have had very solid careers. and full-bodied.
13th was such a powerful tool to educate voters. What do you think of the outcome of the election?
Yes, the documentary is about Trump, but it’s also about many people throughout history who have espoused that point of view, and the effects of that kind of politics and that kind of thinking. And also the ways that people started to come back to it, and that’s where we’re at now; that people will resist it. What’s interesting now is that it’s not a new feeling for people of color. It’s a new feeling for people who are not of color, because they are worried. The field of concern extended beyond race.
I’m sure a lot of viewers haven’t been familiar with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and how it has affected them for years.
It was also my big surprise. I grew up in Compton so there was a very aggressive police presence there. I was scared when the police arrived, so it was a different way of growing up. I was an African American Studies student at UCLA, so I studied Black Liberation Theory a lot, but CAFTA never entered into any of the conversations I had. It was really while making this film that I discovered ALEC and I was immediately fascinated and frustrated. You could do a two-hour documentary just on the CEFTA. I tried to distill it enough to make people realize that there is an obscure group that meets in secret, working hand in hand with lawmakers to protect their business interests, making laws that we all must obey. These people are not legislators, they are not elected officials. It’s crazy.
What effect did making this film have on you personally?
We just finished the movie maybe 10 days before its September release. It was really intense, over 1000 hours of really intense, racist and violent footage to go through. It’s not easy to do, so I really feel these days that I’m happy to be working on a movie about a girl who travels in time through the universe. [A Wrinkle in Time]. I spend my days creating creatures and beautiful costumes, instead of having to go through the worst of society with these images.
Madeleine L’Engle, who wrote the novel A wrinkle in time, was turned down by 26 editors because she was a woman writing about science fiction. Does it sound like a fitting legacy to be a woman making this movie?
Yeah I like it. Madeleine L’Engle is a scum animator. One of my favorite things I love about the book is the fact that it has been banned. I like this. This is one of the things that I’m very proud of, that we really put it together and bring a book that threatened people to life, just through the pure creativity of this woman and how she felt and thought.
How is filming going so far?
It has been extraordinary. This cast is really, really scary of talent. I like the director of photography I work with; the crew looks like the United Nations. We’re working really hard to make sure there are people of color and women in all departments, really bringing a different perspective to this thing. It’s one thing to have a director, but to have a director and an all-male team, you really don’t do what you want to do, you’re not really included in the team. You’re just a figurehead, and that’s something I never want to be. Having a black director and no other person of color on the team is unacceptable.
Nothing that I do accepts that, of Sugar queen, which has an all-female leadership team and a very, very inclusive team too, to Wrinkled, To 13th, which is shot by two black filmmakers. This work goes beyond the director. We talk a lot about female directors, we talk a lot about black directors, but really the real work is done with a team. I think it’s a bit misleading to be there and only talk about my vision.
With Sugar queen, what first attracted you to working on television?
Really, it was watching Cary Fukunaga, who directed all the episodes of the first season of Real detective. I wanted to do it. It’s like making an eight hour movie. But then we started working on it and it took too long, so I had to bring in other directors to direct with me, but the idea of making TV really interested me. This is the scariest thing I have done. Every week you’re like this, “Are they going to connect? It’s a different kind of storytelling. I get nervous every creepy week.