Ava DuVernay: ‘This patriarchy is often shocked when a black film does well’

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During a LA film festival panel the director gets candid about the challenges minority film-makers face and why she turned down the Black Panther project

Ava DuVernay is tired of successful black films being labeled as flukes.

Speaking about Straight Outta Compton while at the Los Angeles film festival , the director said the Oscar-nominated hip-hop dramas success didnt catch her by surprise. The film went on to earn $161m from a $28m budget.

But I remember [at the time] a CNN headline saying: Compton film debuts with no shootings, the director of 2014s Selma recalled.

DuVernay acknowledged while Straight Outta Compton pushed a national moment forward, she added its not like its not happened before. Its really just a selective amnesia, she said. I think its a part of making films in a patriarchy, which is what we do.

Pressed to be more specific by moderator and former New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell, DuVernay said: A white patriarchy.

We exist and we make art, DuVernay stressed. We make these projects within a sphere, within a system that is not built to support varied voices. Its not built to support them, nourish them or amplify them. So when something does break through, it has to start all over again.

Thats why its incumbent upon us, women film-makers, film-makers of color, to track our own legacy, she added. This patriarchy is often shocked when a black film does well, or shocked when a film directed by a woman does well. That strips away the legacy from where that film-maker comes from. It assumes that because Im the first black woman to do this and that, that I was the first one that had the capacity to do so which is incredibly insulting to all the artists who have been doing the work for this moment.

Colman Domingo, David Oyelowo, Andre Holland and Stephan James in Selma. Photograph: Path/Allstar

The treatment of DuVernays Selma helped launch the #OscarsSoWhite debate, which has grown in the two years since the biopic failed to net a nomination for its director and star David Oyelowo, despite a best picture nod.

In 2010, before the movement began making headlines, DuVernay co-founded Array, a film distribution collective, to cultivate a diverse range of films from minority film-makers. Recent releases include Echo Park, Ashes and Embers and Ayanda. She was on hand at the Los Angeles film festival, alongside her ARRAY distribution and marketing team, Mercedes Cooper and Tilane Jones, to accept the events Spirit of Independence honor on behalf of the company.

All of us should be able to see ourselves, DuVernay said, in explaining Arrays initiative to reflect diversity in film. Everyone here loves film, yet a whole swath of film, a whole group of film-makers have been kept from them. That pisses me off and I dont accept it. I want to educate myself. I want to learn. I want see those films and I want to help those films be seen. Array is really about people hearing about what we do and reaching out to us and saying tell me.

On top of her Array duties, DuVernay is currently prepping her first big-budget film for a Disney, an adaptation of Madeleine LEngles sci-fi classic A Wrinkle in Time, about a time-traveling black girl traveling through the universe. Marvel had courted her to take on Black Panther, but she turned it down in favor of making the family film, which resulted in the blockbuster going to Creed director Ryan Coogler.

It wasnt the right project for me, DuVernay said of not making Black Panther. It was the perfect project for Ryan Coogler hes going to shake it up and present it to you on a silver platter.

DuVernay and Coogler are among three black film-makers recently tasked with helming studio tentpoles. Just last week, it was announced that Dope film-maker Rick Famuyiwa had signed on to direct The Flash, following Seth Grahame-Smiths surprise departure from the project.

Youre starting to get into a space where we get to see something we have not seen, which are black film-makers with a hearty amount of resources, DuVernay said, addressing the encouraging uptick. It will be interesting in the next couple of years to see these films come out where you have these new voices that have come up in an independent space, playing with these big toys and just seeing what that looks like. Isnt that exciting? Weve never seen it. What is it even going to look like?

Despite the recent advancements made by Hollywood in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite, DuVernay said that if diversity among all ranks in the film industry doesnt soon become the norm, the mainstream part of the industry is going to die.

There cant be moments, DuVernay said. It has to be the way we are whether by force of by familiarity.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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