theGrio’s 100: Ava DuVernay, 1st black woman to win best director at Sundance

Who is Ava DuVernay?

Ava DuVernay describes herself as “a writer, producer, director and distributor of independent film.” She originally made national headlines by self-distributing her first feature film, I Will Follow, in 2010. This narrative about a woman struggling with the loss of a loved one was praised by film critic Roger Ebert among many others for its storytelling technique. DuVernay also circumvented the notoriously choosy mainstream distribution system by getting this work into theaters herself, a feat praised by The New York Times and other major publications.

DuVernay’s recent successes as a narrative filmmaker follow on the heels of great critical praise for her work as a documentary filmmaker. Her documentaries on African-American subjects ranging from hip-hop to female Hurricane Katrina survivors have been featured on BET and TV One, and have won audience awards at major film festivals.

Why is she on theGrio’s 100?

In 2012 DuVernay made history by becoming the first black woman to win the Best Director accolade at the Sundance Film Festival for her second feature, Middle of Nowhere. The seldom-told story of a black woman struggling to support her incarcerated husband, Middle of Nowhere depicts African-American women with a subtle humanity. This film was also distributed nationally in major theater chains, a rare accomplishment for a black, female director.

What’s next for DuVernay?

DuVernay will continue to promote an independent model of film creation and distribution for her films, taking her do-it-yourself approach further to find new audiences.

She has stressed in several interviews the need for filmmakers to seize power in the entertainment business. “I’ve been told there is no audience for our films. If the stories I’m telling are firmly rooted in characters that are not part of the dominant culture,” DuVernay told the Los Angeles Times, “it’s a question as to can I create an audience, and can I create interest, and can I create a sense of value around the stories of the people I’m interested in.”

Follow Ava DuVernay on Twitter at @AVAETC