When spotlighting excellence in filmmaking during October’s Black History Month, it would be hard to ignore the name Ava DuVernay. The BAFTA and Emmy award winner is a trailblazer in documentary creation and made huge strides in political activism through her works.
DuVernay was vaulted into large success when her 2014 Martin Luther King Jr. biopic, Selma, made her the first African American woman to be nominated for Best Director at the Golden Globes and Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
My first introduction to the documentarian’s talents was through, arguably, her most famous endeavour titled 13th which explored the prison industrial complex and mass incarceration in the United States. This film serves as one of the most influential resources in understanding systemic racism in America, and had a resurgence in popularity in 2020 during the Black Lives Matter protests following a stream of horrific incidents of police brutality. Whilst it is evident that DuVernay’s personal interactions with the police informed this, growing up in Compton and experiencing first hand violence from law enforcement, a fascinating element of the documentary is the wide range of activists and intellectuals involved. In an interview, DuVernay addresses a need to incorporate a variety of voices within the documentary – from the likes of Angela Davis, government representatives, and formerly incarcerated individuals – acknowledging that, “It became unreasonable and incomplete to try to tell the story of now without telling the story of the past.”
This film [13th] serves as one of the most influential resources in understanding systemic racism in America
Continuing the conversation of systemic injustice, Ava DuVernay went on to expose the rampant racism within the United States judicial systems, through the Netflix drama called When They See Us, based on the real case of the ‘Central Park Five’. DuVernay captures the harrowing story of five teenagers, aged from 14-16, being coerced into false confessions by police and being wrongly jailed for years for a murder case regardless of their innocence. Even more striking, was hearing the experience directly from these five men – who DuVernay worked closely with throughout the project.
Continuing the conversation of systemic injustice, Ava DuVernay went on to expose the rampant racism within the United States judicial systems, through the Netflix drama called When They See Us, based on the real case of the ‘Central Park Five’
Most recently, DuVernay launched a campaign to boost accessibility of her newest film Origin; the project is an adaptation of the non-fiction book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. This initiative will provide 10,000 American 16-year-olds free tickets to view the film, with DuVernay explaining “I need to make sure it [the film] gets to the audience, that it reaches folks, that it’s understood, that it’s interrogated, that it’s shared,”. After debuting at Venice Film Festival in early September, the release of this new film is definitely one to watch out for.