Episode 171 – Ava DuVernay

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay on her trailblazing career
By LA Stories Staff Los Angeles
PUBLISHED 5:15 AM PT Jan. 29, 2024

Ava DuVernay is more than just a filmmaker. She’s a champion of marginalized voices and a pioneer in molding a more inclusive Hollywood landscape.

Her journey, from her early days in Los Angeles to the helm of major studio productions, is a testament to her unwavering vision and dedication to storytelling. Beginning her career as a successful publicist, she eventually transitioned into filmmaking.

Her love for arts and storytelling was inspired by her Aunt Denise, though she credits an alchemy of women who raised her.

“I was raised primarily in a matriarchy. My grandmother, Jean Francis, my mother Darlene May, and my aunt Denise Amanda Sexton,” DuVernay said. “All of the mission, the model, the mantra, the way they move is certainly in what I’ve brought with me into the entertainment industry.”

In the latest episode of “LA Stories,” DuVernay opens up to host Giselle Fernandez about her body of work, including her Oscar-nominated film “Selma,” which solidified her stature in American film.

DuVernay went on to create more award-winning work such as “13th” and “When They See Us.” Her latest work, “Origin,” was inspired by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson’s novel “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” which examines racism as a facet of the caste system.

The film follows Wilkerson, played by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, as she deals with personal trauma while studying the link between Jim Crow laws, Nazi Germany and the Dalit in India.

“That’s what she went to explore and try to investigate. The foundation of all of our isms: racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, antisemitism, ageism,” DuVernay said. “All the ways in which we say, ‘Based on a random set of traits, this person is less than this person,’ that human hierarchy. And so that’s what caste is.”

Beyond her own endeavors, DuVernay is also an advocate for diversity and inclusion in the film industry. In 2010, she founded ARRAY, a film distribution company dedicated to amplifying the diverse voices of filmmaking and providing a platform for marginalized voices.

DuVernay said her “primary lens is self-determination,” and she seeks to instill that notion into up-and-coming voices in the industry.

“Don’t sacrifice all of your time and attention to perfect a system that’s not built for you. Build something that is for you,” she said. “These people won’t let me in the door? Build your own door.”

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