Ava DuVernay -- #blacklivesmatter Series


Last week I shared about two Black actors. Today we are sharing about a director, Ava DuVernay. If you missed it, yesterday I shared a tidbit about a Black teacher in my review of a quilt book. I may explore more about her life in the future. Today however we are looking at Ava DuVernay and the first thing I want to say is Happy Birthday, Ava!

Ava DuVernay Director of 13th
Ava DuVernay accepting her Peabody Award for 13th photo by Photo by Stephanie Moreno/Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications for Peabody Awards/University of Georgia / CC BY-SA

Ava DuVernay was born on August 24, 1972 in Long Beach, California, to Darlene (Sexton) and Joseph Marcel DuVernay, III. She has four siblings. She was raised by her mother and her stepfather, Murray Maye. Her mother encouraged Ava to "say something through the arts," and her Aunt Denise encouraged her love of art and creativity. She also introduced Ava to the 1961 film, West Side Story, which Ava fell in love with. She spent her summers in Lowndes County, Alabama with her father's family. Her father remembered watching the historic Civil Rights March over the bridge in Selma. Her summers in Alabama influenced her making of the movie, Selma. Her childhood and family showed her that art could be a vehicle for activism and the importance of the Civil Rights Movement and messages. 

She graduated from Saint Joseph High School in Lakewood, California and then went to the University of California where she earned degrees in English and African American Studies. She interned for CBS News during the O.J. Simpson trial. Her assignments and experience there made her not want to pursue journalism. Instead she focused on publicity. She was hired by a small publicity firm right out of college and in 1999 she started her own, The DuVernay Agency. Besides public relations her agency also launched several lifestyle and promotional networks. 

Ava at the San Francisco Film Festival 2010
by Mariemaye at English Wikipedia / CC BY

The DuVernay Agency also did publicity for films and she was on the sets during her work and got to observe the work of prominent filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, and Raoul Peck. She became interested in filmmaking and writing. In 2006 she made her first short film called Saturday Night Life based on her mother's experiences. After that she wrote and produced two documentaries. In 2010 she released her first narrative film, I Will Follow, which became the official selection of three film festivals. Her second feature film, Middle of Nowhere, won the award for Best Direction at the Sun Dance Film Festival in 2012. She was the first Black woman to win this award. 

Ava's career then took off. She directed many commercials, television shows and music videos. Her films 13th and Selma received critical acclaim and won multiple awards. They both portrayed the racism that exists in the United States. Her films are a vehicle for activism. She also collaborated with Oprah Winfrey to create Queen Sugar, a show on the Oprah Network, and the Disney live action film A Wrinkle in Time. A Wrinkle in Time made her the highest grossing black woman director in American box office history. In 2010 she started her own film distribution company which she renamed ARRAY in 2015 to focus on gender and racial inclusion in filmmaking. In 2019 she created, directed and co-wrote a Netflix mini series called When They See Us. It became the most watched mini series on Netflix with over 23 million viewers the first month of its release and was nominated for 16 Emmy Awards. In 2020 she was elected to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences board of governors as part of the directors branch. In June 2020, Netflix announced they will feature a new series created by Ava DuVernay and Colin Kaepernik, titled "Colin in Black and White." It will be about Colin's early life that helped make him the activist he is now. 


Personally I love that her work is truly a vehicle of activism. Her movies and films have messages we all need to hear and pay attention to. What an amazing person to teach our kids about. Besides watching her films, I did find a few books about Ava DuVernay to teach kids about this amazing Black woman. Here are the books and some of her films that are relatively kid-friendly.
That is our exploration of Ava DuVernay and our post for the Black Lives Matter Series. I hope you will check out our other posts!