#FilmMajorFriday: Why Ava DuVernay is My Greatest Inspiration

Ava DuVernay is everything that Black Girl Magic encompasses. Being a film major, she is my greatest inspiration and really motivates me to pursue a career in film and be on the frontier for bringing more diversity into Hollywood.

DuVernay is a director, screenwriter, film marketer, and film distributor of independent film. She’s most famous for directing Selma (2014), a chronicle of Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2015.

Based in Los Angeles, she is the founder of ARRAY, a community-based distribution collective dedicated to the amplification of films by people of color and women filmmakers. She is also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and is on the board of Film Independent and the Sundance Institute.

What I appreciate most about DuVernay is that she strives to make change for women and people of color in an industry that is dominated by white men. She advocates for the distribution of more films by women and minorities, which is both comforting and inspiring since I’m both a woman and a minority. Not only does ARRAY focus on women and Black filmmakers, but also Latino, Asian, Native American, and Middle Eastern filmmakers and directors.

To me, one of her most notable acts of duty is when she and Ryan Coogler (Director of Fruitvale Station, Creed, and the upcoming Black Panther movie that comes out in 2018!!!), and several others supported a free Oscar-night event in Flint, Michigan to raise money for the Flint Water Crisis while boycotting the Oscars for its lack of diversity in the Academy. The #JUSTICEFORFLINT benefit gave a voice to members of the community who were victims of the choices that people in power made, choices that failed to protect the citizens of Flint. The event raised a total of $100,000.

She has taught me that if my dreams are only for myself, then they’re not big enough, and to include others in my dreams. She has taught me to pay attention to my intention not just in filmmaking, but in all areas of my life. Be grateful, appreciate others, and put others first. Take action in my craft, and that the only thing that matters is my work.

Most importantly, it is imperative that we continue to create spaces like ARRAY that advocate for the distribution of more films by women and minorities. Why? Because all of us should be able to see ourselves. Visual identity and representation matters. It’s important that we allow others to see themselves in all walks of life, beyond the stereotypes that we are subjected to.

Thank you, DuVernay, for all that you do. You are changing lives and inspiring young filmmakers like me more than you are credited for. Keep on climbing, and keep on shining!

 

Women of Color Wednesday: Viola Davis

This week’s #WomenofColorWednesday shout out goes to one of my favorite actresses, Viola Davis!

I’ve always been a fan of Davis, but I completely fell in love with this incredibly talented, intelligent, brilliant actress during her acceptance speech during the 2015 Emmy Awards.

Watch Davis give her speech here.

What stood out to me the most is when she said, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” I’ve never heard a truer statement than that. So many women of color miss out on chances to reach the peak of their potential not because they’re not good enough, talented enough, or educated enough, but simply because they lack the opportunities to do so.

Davis is one of the reasons why my life mission is to be a part of the change that the film/media/TV industry needs today: more women and more people of color. I want to be able to tell diverse stories by diverse story tellers, and create opportunities for those who would otherwise not receive them.

The fact that Davis is the first African American to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama (for How To Get Away With Murder) says a lot about the racial inequality in Hollywood and the lack of opportunities for people of color in the industry. There’s definitely a diversity problem, and that needs to change.

At this year’s SAG Awards, she said that “diversity should not be a trending topic…No matter what is going on in the business, I will find a way to practice my art, and all of the actors of color who I know don’t place any limitations on themselves either. So regardless of what is going on with the Academy, regardless of what is going on in Hollywood, they will find a way to be excellent. We always have and we always will.”

People like Viola Davis are the driving force to the changes that need to happen in the industry, and it’s important that people of color lead by this example and advocate for more opportunities for people of color — and women — in the industry. Our stories are just as valid as anyone else’s.

Viola Davis, thank you for being one of my greatest inspirations. It’s people like you that give me hope for diversifying an industry that is dominated by white men.