In March of 2011, filmmaker Ava DuVernay released I Will Follow to positive reviews and raves from Roger Ebert. A year later, she released her second narrative film, Middle Of Nowhere, lauded by Oprah Winfrey, and which ultimately won her the Best Director prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Either of these two events would not be extraordinary, save for the fact that Ava is an African-American woman who directs films. Her bio is different than one may assume, as well. Raised in Compton, educated at UCLA, she transitioned a successful career in film marketing to become the emerging voice she is today.
Recognizing the rare space she occupied, she determined to tell her stories carrying the responsibility as an African-American woman, respectful of the imagery she put forth onto the cultural landscape. It is with regard to that responsibility that I speak about the importance of such a voice. Understanding, as many African-Americans instinctively do, that our images have historically been controlled and projected by storytellers from outside of our community, Ava determined to create characters that are rich and nuanced, as textured and varied as those from the neighborhood in which she was raised. This, too, wouldn't be extraordinary, were it not for the historical dearth of such nuanced character portrayals. The effect of projecting, what has most often been negative imagery of and about a group of people, often results in the opinions of the larger audience being unfairly and inaccurately influenced about this community. It causes, for instance, people that live in Westwood, a well-to-do suburb of Los Angeles, to misunderstand the people that live in Inglewood, a mostly minority section of LA, which is less well off. This has been the norm since the beginning of the medium.
Monday, Ava released a new short film, The Door, commissioned by the fashion house Miu Miu for premiere during New York's Fashion Week, and, as has come to be expected from her, it is a thing of beauty. Planned as a showcase for the designs of the label, Ava cast the actors, Gabrielle Union, Alfre Woodard, Adepero Aduye, singer Goapele, and her new muse, Emayatzi Corinealdi, a stunning array of beautiful Black women, placed in the unfamiliar setting of a short film for a major fashion house. A film without dialogue, Ms. Union's character is comforted and consoled by her coterie through an unknown, though clearly difficult moment in her life. Ms. DuVernay tells the story with the subtlety and style that has become her signature. Using rich colors, aided by the skilled eye of cinematographer, Bradford Young, and with a strong soundtrack to propel the story, the film is a stunning success. It serves as an opportune showcase for all parties involved. Ms. Union, with powerful eyes, conveys an entire script in a glance. Once again, Ms. DuVernay has used the medium to redefine the audience's perception of African-American characters, but with the grace and light touch of a master.
Once again, she has risen to the occasion of both storyteller and torchbearer, illuminating not only what is possible, but in a textured way that appears to be nothing but the truth. By maintaining her values and integrity as a filmmaker, Ms. DuVernay is continuing to provide an example, not just for people of color, but for the much larger audience of film lovers, making this writer hope that it will soon no longer be necessary to highlight her distinction as an African-American, female director, but rather, a director, holding open a door to opportunity and diversity. Her next film is a documentary profile of Venus Williams, produced by ESPN.