Real Leaders

Leaders of Hope: Ava Duvernay

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 25: Ava DuVernay arrives for the 72nd Annual Directors Guild Of America Awards at The Ritz Carlton on January 25, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Ava DuVernay is providing hope for women and artists of color to promote and showcase their work in film. Her 14,000-square-foot, three-building campus in Los Angeles, which opened in early 2018, includes a new theatre to highlight movies created by these artists.

DuVernay’s collective includes a nonprofit called Array Alliance, which funds programs and educational events that promotes social impact and gives a leg up to women and nonwhite filmmakers; a for-profit distribution company to acquire and release mission-oriented independent movies that might not otherwise be released; and a private production company — whose crew is over 50 percent women — which is already receiving recognition for shows like Netflix’s When They See Us and Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated documentary 13th (about race problems in America) as well as Oprah Winfrey’s Queen Sugar.

Though each entity operates independently, they share a common mission: first, to break down Hollywood legacy systems that make it difficult for women and artists of color to succeed, and second, to provide a creative platform for social justice.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, DuVernay, the first black woman to direct a movie with a $100 million budget (Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time), said, “Every system has roadblocks for people like us, whether it is in acquisition, production, distribution, exhibition, marketing, crewing up… So, what we were looking to do was disrupt those systems so that we create normalcy and momentum.”

DuVernay is no stranger to stirring things up. She was the first African-American woman to spearhead a film (Selma in 2014) nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award — although surprisingly not recognized in the Best Director category. She has been outspoken about Hollywood’s lack of diversity in the Oscars, keeping her 2.6 million followers updated on where, when, and how the movie industry falls short. Her efforts led to the Academy changing membership rules to include more minority voters and continues to spotlight Hollywood’s lack of women and minorities on both sides of the camera. She is one of the most passionate voices calling attention to our nation’s relationship with race.

Her colleagues point out that DuVernay is not trying to push white people out of Hollywood, but rather, to change the system so that everyone gets a chance. Her rise came from nothing but talent, extremely hard work, and a culture that treats everyone equally on the set. “I don’t treat my actors differently than I treat the gaffer or the grip or the craft services manager or hair and makeup, because we’re all making the movie,” she once said. DuVernay is a real leader keeping the spotlight on race and prejudice, providing hope to those whose stories otherwise might never be told, and providing the shoulders for minority artists to stand upon.

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