Ava DuVernay b. August 24, 1972
DuVernay is an American filmmaker and distributor.
She graduated from UCLA with a double major in English literature and Africa-American studies. After graduation DuVernay began to work as a publicist for movies, eventually creating her own successful publicity firm. From 1999 to 2011 she is credited as doing publicity work on nearly 100 films and TV shows. While doing the work DuVernay developed a desire to become a filmmaker in her own right.
In 2006 she directed her first short film Saturday Night Life. She followed this up with several short documentaries. In 2010 she made her feature film debut with the film I Will Follow which she entirely self-funded using $50,000 of her own money. Unable to find a distributor willing to release the film theatrically she created the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) and distributed the film herself.
By 2012 DuVernay made her second film Middle of Nowhere. With the film DuVernay achieved a long-standing goal to have her work shown at the Sundance Film Festival. Not only was it screened in the U.S. dramatic competition category but DuVernay also won the Best Director award making her the first African-American woman to win that category.
Despite the festival success of Middle of Nowhere no distributors were willing to give the movie a theatrical release. DuVernay again released her film via AFFRM. She was offered work directing TV and commercials, but no movie offers came her way. In 2013 however David Oyelowo, who had starred in Middle of Nowhere, was attached to the movie Selma which had recently lost director Lee Daniels who wanted more money to make the film. Oyelowo asked the producers to consider hiring DuVernay which they did as she was willing to make the film for a budget of $20 million, re-write the script with no credit and the limitation that none of Martin Luther King jr’s speeches could actually be used.
Selma was DuVernay’s first film with a studio distributor, an awards campaign, and a wide release. She became the first black woman nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director and the first black woman to direct a Best Picture nominee at the Oscars.
In 2015 DuVernay, who had kept AFFRM open and continued to give theatrical distribution to small films directed and or/starring African-Americans, partnered with Netflix and re-branded her company as ARRAY revealing that the scope of the distribution company would now also include a mandate to focus on films directed by women.
The following year DuVernay partnered with Oprah’s company OWN to create the miniseries Queen Sugar for which she hired a directorial crew made up entirely of women. She also announced that she had secretly been filming a documentary called The 13th, which would debut at the 2016 New York Film Festival making her the first person to have a documentary open the festival and the first black woman to open the festival.
She is currently working on an adaptation of the book A Wrinkle in Time for Disney, a film with a budget of over $100 million making her only the fifth woman and first black woman to direct a live-action movie with a budget that large.