Ava DuVernay Needs No Permission

During a discussion with rapper Q-Tip at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, Ava DuVernay stated, “The mission of all my work, truly, is to magnify the magnificence of Black people.”  This mission shines through DuVernay’s work, from documentaries, to television and feature film. On the OWN series, Queen Sugar, created by DuVernay, and adapted from Natalie Baszile’s novel, each scene is stunning in its own way, ranging from quietly intense, to messy and heartrending. DuVernay’s list of honors and accomplishments continues to grow as she solidifies her position as anything but a “Hidden Figure” in Hollywood.

What resonates most strongly about her work is the way she tells the stories she wants to tell, whether or not she has the “necessary”  validation of well-known institutions before doing so. She founded the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (now known as ARRAY) in 2010, with the goal of amplifying and distributing independent films by women and people of color.

DuVernay continues to defy an establishment that attempts to submerge and erase artists and filmmakers who are queer, women and or of color, as is clear with the line-up of directors for Queen Sugar including Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman, 1996), DeMane Davis (Lift, 2001), and Aurora Guerrero (Mosquita y Mari, 2012). Her dreams and intentions are vast, containing more than just her own career aspirations, and there is no doubt that she has much more magnificence to share with the world, on and off-screen.

The following list includes documentaries and feature films Ava DuVernay has released over the past few years, ranging from portraits of families facing grief and absence, to an exploration of the lives of Black women in hip-hop. You will also find links to speeches and conversations that highlight DuVernay’s wisdom, humor and unrelenting spirit.



Keynotes and Interviews

Quotable Moment: “Focusing on those things [all the things you have] instead of all the things you want, all the things you think you need, all the things you deserve, that’s where I put my attention, and that’s when things started to change for me. My posture started to change, my needs started to change, I was moving forward as opposed to standing still. I wasn’t desperate anymore because I was making movies.”

Quotable Moment: “I was just going from thing to thing, accomplishment to accomplishment, achievement to achievement, and my heart wasn’t enlarging, and my balance was broken…I came to realize that those dreams I’d been dreaming…what was the problem? What was the error? What was so off? It’s because the dreams were too small. If your dream only includes you, it’s too small. If your dream is just about that thing you want to accomplish and you don’t even know why you want it, [I mean] it’s too small.”

Quotable Moment: [On the intentions behind Selma, the film’s connection to recent cases of state-sanctioned violence against Black people, and her commitment to and care for Black people through her work]

“…but overall I feel that it’s no-one else’s responsibility to make the things that I want to see. It’s my responsibility, if I want to see them, then I need to make them. If I’m able– and I am– so I do.”

Quotable Moment: [On the significance of the the title 13th and the significance of the 13th amendment]

“We take you from 1865 and the abolition of slavery, and the enactment of the 13th amendment, all the way to now and this Black Lives Matter movement, and we trace decade by decade, generation by generation, politician by politician, president by president; each decision and how it has led to this moment. We try to give some historical context to what is happening now. I think people get in this present moment and they start to forget that we’re part of a legacy. This legacy is rich,  but it’s also very violent, and we try to get into the deep layers.”  


Zoë Gadegbeku is the Communications Manager for the Elma Lewis Center. She blogs at shewhowritesreality.com. 


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