Ava Duvernay Breaks the Mold, Takes Pride in Being Labeled a ‘Black Woman Filmmaker’

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By Nekala Alexander

In Hollywood, it’s all about labels. For award-winning director Ava DuVernay, power is in defining it for one’s self.

The Selma director recently sat down with AOL’s Makers series to discuss why diversity in film is essential to visual storytelling, especially for African Americans.

“I don’t feel like it’s any less or limiting. I’m a Black woman filmmaker and my films are just as valid as the white man filmmaker and whoever else,” she said. “When I write my scripts when I say, ‘a man walked into the building,’ I mean a Black man.”

Rather than hide behind the title of filmmaker like others in the industry, DuVernay celebrates her role as a trailblazer for Black cinema.

“This industry is no longer what it used to be. The gatekeeper’s gates are rusting,” DuVernay said. “There are new ways to shoot, new ways to monetize, new ways to distribute, new audiences to find, new ways to communicate with them that don’t require some old man telling you, ‘you can do it.’ So now [that] that’s the case, and we know it’s the case, we need to begin.”

DuVernay is no stranger to carving paths for her films to be seen. Prior to her renowned success with Selma, she distributed her earlier work through a grassroots Black film collective called African American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AAFRM.) AAFRM is a collective she founded.

With her star on the rise, DuVernay is gearing up to become one of the most influential Black woman filmmakers of this generation.

“I know and I’ve heard people saying, ‘I don’t want to be defined as a woman filmmaker’ or ‘I don’t want to be defined as a Black filmmaker.’ All good with me, but I want to defined as a Black woman filmmaker,” she said. “That is my gaze. I’m proud of it.”

In addition to her Black film collective, DuVernay is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. She also serves as a board member of Film Independent and of the Sundance Institute.

“Say what you are. Be proud of what you are. Doesn’t mean you’re not also a filmmaker. You got something special that’s awesome.”

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