“As I went to explain what was happening now, it became unreasonable and incomplete to try to tell the story of now without telling the story of the past.” -Ava DuVernay
Netflix recently released 13th: A Conversation With Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay. I felt it necessary to watch because context matters so deeply to me and my work. Culture Honey and Sister Support (the nonprofit I am president of) have come together to do a screening and panel discussion based on 13th, so what better way to prepare for the facilitation of a panel than to watch the director herself share her process?
Oprah, a masterful interviewer and now close friend, supporter and boss of Ava DuVernay, sat down to discuss the process of making the film 13th. Ava talked about her process and about interviewing over 200 people personally for the film. She talked about the importance of allowing a film to blossom: “That’s what documentary filmmaking is, a thinking process. The film wants to be what it wants to be, you can’t dictate what the story’s going to be. You can go in with an area of focus or key points that you want to explore, but really it’s an investigation, you have to go where the story is going to take you.”
In the nearly 37 minute interview, DuVernay discusses interviewing people like politician Newt Gingrich and prison abolitionist, activist, author and academic scholar Angela Davis. She spoke of the nervousness that sometimes came with the interviews. She detailed the importance of strategically sitting with them for 2 hours at a time with the goal of getting open and honest communication on camera. DuVernay talks about the difference between prison reform and prison reconstruction, which she says is critical to differentiate. The conversation ends with DuVernay talking about her struggle with deciding how to end the film. She came to the understanding that she wanted to activate the audience. She wanted to bring dignity and explain why these things matter and why they should matter to us all. This led to her ending choice. Ava believes that “pressure from people can create change.” I too believe that deeply.
My journey to becoming an admirer of Ava’s work started several years ago. I was flipping channels and there was a show on discussing the making of Ava’s first narrative feature film, I Will Follow. I had first come to know about Ava while sitting in the upstairs movie room of my good friend and actor Omari Hardwick. He was working on a second film with Ava, Middle of Nowhere, starring Emayatzy Corinealdi alongside David Oyelowo. Omari was talking about the films, about Ava, and something about the way he spoke about her struck me. She was a powerhouse and he knew it too. I had only seen snippets of her work, but once I experienced it I immediately fell in love. I love the way her stories unfold slowly, allowing breath and contemplation. I love that her stories are intentionally most often centered around women. I admire that she curates her team brilliantly enough to craft films that are nuanced and rich. She continues to work with the people she makes magic with while being open to new collaborations. She is well-respected, and in Hollywood that is rare.
ARRAY is an independent film distribution and resource collective founded in 2010 by DuVernay, dedicated to the amplification of independent films by people of color and women filmmakers globally. Array @ The Broad is an ongoing screening series featuring classic and contemporary films curated by Ava DuVernay to explore the intersection of art, history and cultural identity. I have been to several of the rarely publicized but completely magical screenings, and each time I sit in a room with Ava I become more impressed and called to action in my own work. I often think, “What would Ava do?” when I hit a creative roadblock or start experiencing limiting thoughts. So naturally when the highly anticipated 13th came out, I watched. It was brilliant, thought-provoking and honest. It was so smartly done. For all of this and so much more, I will follow Ava DuVernay as she continues to challenge what we think we know about people of color and life itself.
Join us Sunday, Feb 26th for the screening of Ava DuVernay’s 13th and a panel discussion moderated by me. Get tickets here!
First Published: Feb 14, 2017 @ 06:08