First Black Female director to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture
"Ava DuVernay is an American film director, producer, screenwriter, film marketer, and film distributor. At the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, DuVernay won the U.S. Directing Award: Dramatic for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere, becoming the first African-American woman to win the award. For her work in Selma (2014), DuVernay was the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award. With Selma, she was also the first black female director to have her film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. In 2017, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film 13th (2016).
DuVernay's next film, A Wrinkle in Time, reportedly has a budget exceeding $100 million, making DuVernay the first black woman to direct a live-action film with a budget of that size...
In 2011, DuVernay's first narrative feature film, I Will Follow, a drama starring Salli Richardson-Whitfield, was released theatrically. DuVernay's aunt Denise Sexton was the inspiration for the film. The film cost DuVernay $50,000 and was made in 14 days. Roger Ebert called it "one of the best films I've seen about coming to terms with the death of a loved one." I Will Follow was an official selection of AFI Fest, Pan-African Film Festival, Urbanworld and Chicago International Film Festival.
In the summer of 2011, DuVernay began production on her second narrative feature film, Middle of Nowhere, off a script she had written in 2003 but couldn't get financed then. The film world-premiered on January 20 at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where it played in U.S. dramatic competition and garnered the U.S. Directing Award: Dramatic for DuVernay, the first African-American woman to ever win the prize. DuVernay also won the 2012 Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award for her work on the film...
"Like other African American filmmakers, including pioneers of past generations, DuVernay subscribes to the ethos that art serves a social purpose, debunks demeaning and normative assumptions about black people, and renders black humanity in all manner of genres and complexity." Like many black art movements before her, she continues to advocate for black empowerment and representation in the media.
Two core themes embody her line of work. First, is sustained interrogation that engages with black women's agency and subjectivity. Second, she refers to family as "site and source of resilience, memory, cultural transmission, generational continuity and dissonance, and as purveyor of all things affirming of black identity".
Michael T. Martin has said "DuVernay is among the vanguard of a new generation of African American filmmakers who are the busily undeterred catalyst for what may very well be a black film renaissance in the making." He further speaks of DuVernay’s mission and "call to action" which constitutes a strategy "to further and foster the black cinematic image in an organized and consistent way, and to not have to defer and ask permission to traffic our films: to be self-determining."
One step towards this strategy has been her founding of the collective AFFRM.
- In 2012, Variety featured Duvernay in its Women's Impact Report.
- In June 2013, she was invited to both the director's and writer's branches of AMPAS. DuVernay was only the second black woman, following Kasi Lemmons, to be invited to the director's branch.
- Duvernay became the inaugural recipient of the Tribeca Film Institute's Heineken Affinity Award, receiving a $20,000 prize and industry support for future projects. DuVernay donated all the money to AFFRM, the black arthouse film collective she founded.
- In June 2015, Duvernay was honored as part of Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards with the Dorothy Arzner Directors Award.
- In April 2015 DuVernay was chosen as one of Mattel's "Sheros" of 2015. As such a custom-made one-of-a-kind Barbie in DuVernay's likeness was produced. The doll was auctioned off with the proceeds given to charity. Due to high demand, a collectible version of the doll was produced and sold in December of that year.
- In 2017, DuVernay became the first black woman nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, for her film 13th.
- In 2018, DuVernay won Entertainer of the Year at the 49th NAACP Image Awards for her work in 2017.
The "DuVernay test" is the race equivalent of the Bechdel test (for women in movies), as suggested by New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis in January 2016, asking whether "African-Americans and other minorities have fully realized lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories." It aims to point out the lack of people of color in Hollywood movies, through a measure of their importance to a particular movie or the lack of a gratuitous link to white actors." (1)