Ava DuVernay is an accomplished filmmaker. She made her name in Hollywood with the 2012 feature film Middle of Nowhere, before becoming a household name in 2014 with the success of her feature film Selma.
She’s also renowned for using her voice and position to advocate for enhanced inclusivity in Hollywood. Case in point, speaking at the 2017 CAA Amplify Summit, she praised the changes that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made to enhance diverse representation in light of the #OscarsSoWhite movement on social media.
She noted, “There was systematic change that happened in the organization. She added, [sometimes] “we don’t actually get under the hood to create change in the system to make sure [the drive to more inclusivity] doesn’t end.”
Importantly, hers is a cause she champions and pursues in words and deeds. DuVernay has used her filmmaking endeavors to make a difference in the diversity scale in film and television. Aside from advocating for inclusivity of people of color on screen and behind the camera, she walks the talk.
DuVernay’s Impact on Inclusion Through Her Film Work
DuVernay makes a point of properly including minorities in her films. Her film “Middle of Nowhere” established her as a trailblazer in pursuit of inclusivity. Since then, she has used her platform and position to tell African American history and stories in films such as Selma and Origin.
All the while giving minorities opportunities on-screen and behind the camera.
Her Impact on Inclusion Through Her Television Work
As is the case with her film work, she has made an effort to impact the diversity scale on TV. Whether she is a director, writer, executive producer, creator, or a combination of these titles on a show, you can rest assured she will include creatives from the minority on-screen and behind the camera.
For the production of the multiple NAACP Image Awards winner Queen Sugar, she decided to shine a light on women in independent filmmaking, opting for “an all-women directorial team.” Speaking about the 13-episode series that aired on Own to Reel Black, she noted that "It's an exciting time to invite women into this show, and to try to tell the story of this family of really strong women who do an amazing thing."
Her choice of projects she gets involved in has had a positive impact on the inclusion of minorities in TV shows and, importantly, the showcasing of stories from African American communities. A good example of her effort to enhance diversity in Hollywood by showing black American stories is her production of the 2019 Emmy Award-winning miniseries When They See Us.
As the executive producer, creator, writer, and director, DuVernay guided the Netflix miniseries to immense success, earning critical acclaim and winning awards, while sharing the story of the Central Park Five. The film explores the emotion-wrecking events of five Harlem teens who were falsely accused of assaulting and raping a Central Park jogger.
Her Work With Array
In 2015, DuVernay expanded and transformed her film distribution company to cater to and distribute films by minorities and women. Speaking to Variety about transforming her company from the African American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) to Array, she noted, “The real focus of our company has always been distribution. What we’re doing now is opening our arms a little wider and enlarging our mission.”
Owing to her inclusivity efforts as a filmmaker, DuVernay has cultivated a reputation as a pathbreaker in the push for enhanced diversity in film and TV. She’s also been recognized and received co-signs from many quotas for her efforts.
The New York Times’s Manohla Dargis proposed the “DuVernay test,” a measure critics can use when discussing the representation of minorities in film and television production. Dargis notes that to pass the test, the “African-Americans and other minorities [characters having] fully realized lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories.”