Ava DuVernay
DuVernay in 2015
Ava Marie DuVernay

(1972-08-24) August 24, 1972 (age 51)
Alma materUniversity of California, Los Angeles
Notable workSelma, 13th, A Wrinkle in Time

Ava Marie DuVernay (/ˈvə ˌdjvɛərˈn/; born August 24, 1972) is an American film director, producer, screenwriter, film marketer, and film distributor. DuVernay won the directing award in the U.S. dramatic competition at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere,[1] becoming the first African-American woman to win the award.[2] For her work on Selma (2014), DuVernay was the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award.[3][4] With Selma, she was also the first black female director to have her film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. In 2017, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film 13th (2016).

DuVernay's 2018 fantasy film A Wrinkle in Time, had a production and marketing budget between $150 million and $250 million, making her the first African-American woman to direct a live-action film with a budget of that size.[5] That film also made her the first African-American woman to direct a film that earned over $100 million domestically.[6][5]

Early life

DuVernay was born in Long Beach, California. She was raised by her mother, Darlene, an educator, and her stepfather, Murray Maye.[7] The surname of her biological father, Joseph Marcel DuVernay III, originates with Louisiana Creole ancestry.[8] She grew up in Lynwood, California (near Compton)[9] and graduated in 1990 from Saint Joseph High School in Lakewood.[10] At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), she was a double BA major in English literature and African-American studies.[7][11][12][13] A DNA test on the series Finding Your Roots showed DuVernay to be of 57.3% African-American and 41.5% European descent.

During her summer vacations, she would travel to the childhood home of her stepfather, which was not far from Selma, Alabama.[14] DuVernay said that these summers influenced the making of Selma, as her stepfather saw the Selma to Montgomery marches as a small child.[15]


Her first interest was in journalism, a choice influenced by an internship with CBS News, where she was assigned to help cover the O.J. Simpson murder trial.[11] She became disillusioned with journalism however, and decided to move into public relations, working as a junior publicist at Fox[disambiguation needed], Savoy Pictures, and a few other PR agencies before opening her own public relations firm, The DuVernay Agency, also known as DVAPR, in 1999. Through DVAPR she provided marketing and PR services to the entertainment and lifestyle industry, working on campaigns for movies and television shows such as Lumumba, Spy Kids, Shrek 2, The Terminal, Collateral, and Dreamgirls.[7][11][13][16][17][18][19] Other ventures launched by DuVernay include Urban Beauty Collective, which was a promotional network that began in 2003 and had more than 10,000 African-American beauty salons and barbershops in 16 (20 since 2008) U.S. cities which were mailed a free monthly Access Hollywood-style promotion program called UBC-TV,[20][21] the African-American blog hub Urban Thought Collective in 2008, Urban Eye, a two-minute long weekday celebrity and entertainment news show distributed to radio stations,[22] as well as HelloBeautiful, a digital platform for millennial women of color.[23]


DuVernay at the 2010 AFI Film Festival

In 2005,[24] over the Christmas holiday, DuVernay decided to take $6,000 and make her first film, a short called Saturday Night Life.[18] Based on her mother's experiences,[13] the 12-minute film about an uplifting trip by a struggling single mother (Melissa De Sousa) and her three kids to a local Los Angeles discount grocery store toured the festival circuit and was broadcast on February 6, 2007, as part of Showtime's Black Filmmaker Showcase.[25]

DuVernay then moved on to documentaries because they can be done on a smaller budget than fiction films, and she could learn the trade while doing so.[26] In 2007, she directed the short Compton in C Minor for which she "challenged herself to capture Compton in only two hours and present whatever she found."[27] The following year, she made her feature directorial debut with the alternative hip hop documentary This Is the Life, a history of LA's Good Life Cafe's arts movement in which she participated as part of the duo Figures of Speech.

In 2011, DuVernay's first narrative feature film, I Will Follow, a drama starring Salli Richardson-Whitfield, was released theatrically. DuVernay's aunt Denise Sexton was the inspiration for the film.[28] The film cost DuVernay $50,000 and was made in 14 days.[17] Roger Ebert called it "one of the best films I've seen about coming to terms with the death of a loved one."[29][30] I Will Follow was an official selection of AFI Fest, Pan-African Film Festival, Urbanworld and Chicago International Film Festival.

In the summer of 2011, DuVernay began production on her second narrative feature film, Middle of Nowhere, off a script she had written in 2003 but couldn't get financed then.[18] The film world-premiered on January 20 at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where it played in U.S. dramatic competition[31] and garnered the U.S. Directing Award: Dramatic for DuVernay, the first African-American woman to ever win the prize. DuVernay also won the 2012 Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award for her work on the film.[32]

DuVernay was commissioned by the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture to create a film which debuted at the museum's opening on September 24, 2016. August 28: A Day in the Life of a People tells of six significant events in African-American history that happened on the same date, August 28. The 22-minute film stars Lupita Nyong'o, Don Cheadle, Regina King, David Oyelowo, Angela Bassett, Michael Ealy, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, André Holland and Glynn Turman. Events depicted include William IV's royal assent to the UK Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, the 1955 lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi, the release of Motown's first number-one song, “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvellettes, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech, the landfall of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the night then-senator Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.[33]


Main article: Selma (film)

DuVernay directed Selma, a $20 million budget film produced by Plan B Entertainment, about Martin Luther King, Jr., Lyndon B. Johnson, and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march.[34] The movie was released on December 25, 2014 to critical acclaim.[35]

For the film she did uncredited re-writes of most of the original screenwriter Paul Webb's script with an increased emphasis on King and the people of Selma as central figures.[36][37] In response to the criticisms of historians and media sources that accused her of irresponsibly rewriting history to portray her own agenda, DuVernay pointed out that the film is "not a documentary. I'm not a historian. I'm a storyteller".[38]

The film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Song, but not Best Director, at the Academy Awards. The lack of diversity of the Oscar nominations for 2014 was the subject of much press,[39] especially on Twitter,[40] and the film of the only person of color that was nominated for the 87th Academy Awards. The award for Best Original Song went to "Glory" from Selma.[41][42] DuVernay stated that she had not expected to be nominated so the omission didn't really bother her; rather she was hurt by actor David Oyelowo not being nominated. As to the question of racial diversity of awards, she stated that the obstacles to people of color being represented in the Academy Awards were systemic.[40]

Duvernay with her Peabody Award for 13th at the 76th annual ceremony in 2017


Main article: 13th (film)

In July 2016 the New York Film Festival made the surprise announcement that 13th, a documentary directed by DuVernay, would open the festival. Until the announcement no mention of the film had been made by either DuVernay or Netflix, the film's distributor.[43] Centered on race in the United States criminal justice system, the film is titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which outlawed slavery (unless as punishment for a crime). DuVernay's documentary opens with the idea that 25 percent of the people in the world who are incarcerated are incarcerated in the U.S. and argues that slavery is being effectively perpetuated in the U.S. through mass incarceration. The film features several prominent activists, politicians, and public figures such as, Angela Davis, Bryan Stevenson, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Cory Booker, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and others.[44]

It was released on October 7, 2016 on Netflix.[45] 13th has garnered acclaim from film critics and is currently at a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 69 reviews, with the critical consensus that states: "13th strikes at the heart of America's tangled racial history, offering observations as incendiary as they are calmly controlled."[46] In 2017, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Oscars,[47] making DuVernay the first black woman to be nominated as a director by the academy in a feature category.[48] The film also won a Peabody Award in 2017.[49]

A Wrinkle in Time

Main article: A Wrinkle in Time (2018 film)

In 2010, it was announced that Disney carried the film rights to the 1962 novel A Wrinkle in Time.[50] Following the success of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, Disney announced the hire of Jeff Stockwell to write the screenplay for Cary Granat and his new Bedrock Studios. Cary Granat had previously worked with Disney on the Chronicles of Narnia and Bridge to Terabithia films.[51] On August 5, 2014, Jennifer Lee was announced as the screenwriter, taking over from Stockwell, who had written the first draft.[52][53] On February 8, 2016, it was reported that DuVernay had been offered to direct the film, and she was confirmed as director later that same month.[54]

A Wrinkle in Time began filming in November 2016. DuVernay is the first woman of color to direct a live-action film with a budget of over $100 million, and the second woman to do so after Patty Jenkins (who directed Wonder Woman).[5]

The film was released in March 2018 and brought in $33 million its opening weekend, second at the box office behind Black Panther.[55] Following Disney's Q2 earnings report in May 2018, Yahoo! Finance deduced the film would lose the studio anywhere from $86–186 million.[56]

Upon release, the film received mixed reviews, with critics "taking issue with the film's heavy use of CGI and numerous plot holes" while "celebrating its message of female empowerment and diversity."[57]


In 2010, DuVernay directed three TV documentaries. The first, a two-hour concert film TV One Night Only: Live from the Essence Music Festival, a mix of live performances and behind-the-scenes vignettes, which aired August 28, 2010 on TV One, showcases the U.S.'s largest annual African-American entertainment gathering, the Essence Music Festival, which in 2010 took place July 2–4 in New Orleans.[58] Two days later, BET premiered its first original music documentary, My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women and Hip Hop, a 41-minute long history of female hip hop artists.[59]

On Thanksgiving 2010 TV One showed the 44-minute documentary special Essence Presents: Faith Through the Storm about two black sisters who reclaimed their lives after personal devastation during Hurricane Katrina. "It was done for a client, for Essence. They wanted to talk about how faith helped them through, that was very important to them. So it is interspersed with gospel music, images of Katrina, their home and family."[60]

ESPN commissioned DuVernay to produce and direct Venus Vs., a documentary on Venus Williams' fight for equal prize money for their film series Nine for IX, which aired on July 2, 2013.[61] DuVernay directed the John Legend episode of the performance-and-interview series HelloBeautiful Interludes Live which was shown September 14, 2013 on TV One as the series' broadcast premiere.[23] She also directed the eighth episode of the third season of the political thriller television series Scandal. The episode, titled "Vermont is for Lovers, Too", premiered on November 21, 2013 on ABC.[62]

In 2015, DuVernay executive produced and directed the CBS civil rights crime drama pilot For Justice starring Anika Noni Rose.[63] It was not picked up for distribution.[citation needed] That same year, DuVernay announced she would be creating and executive producing the drama series Queen Sugar, based on Natalie Baszile's novel.[64][65]

Queen Sugar premiered September 6, 2016 on Oprah Winfrey Network to critical acclaim and positive reviews.[66] DuVernay directed two episodes and wrote four. On August 1, 2016, the series was renewed for a second season ahead of its television premiere which aired in a two-night premiere on June 20 and June 21, 2017.[67][68] The series was renewed for a third season on July 26, 2017.[69]

Advertising and music videos

In 2013, DuVernay partnered with Miu Miu as part of their Women's Tales film series.[70] Her short film The Door starred actress Gabrielle Union and reunited DuVernay with her Middle of Nowhere star Emayatzy Corinealdi. The film premiered online in February 2013[71] and was presented at the Venice Days sidebar of the 70th Venice International Film Festival in August.[72]

Also in August 2013, DuVernay released, through Vimeo,[73] a second branded short film entitled Say Yes.[74] The film was sponsored by cosmetic brand Fashion Fair and starred Kali Hawk and Lance Gross with Julie Dash, Victoria Mahoney, Lorraine Toussaint and Issa Rae appearing as extras.

In 2015, Apple Music and their ad agency Translation hired DuVernay to helm a series of three commercials starring Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson and Kerry Washington. The first ad, Chapter 1, premiered during Fox's Emmy broadcast on September 20, 2015.[75] Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 debuted in November 2015 and February 2016, respectively.[76]

Her music video for the Jay-Z ft. Beyoncé song "Family Feud" premiered December 29, 2017 on Tidal.[77] It features guest appearances by Michael B. Jordan, Thandie Newton, Trevante Rhodes, Jessica Chastain, Irene Bedard, Omari Hardwick, Emayatzy Corinealdi, David Oyelowo, America Ferrera, Aisha Hinds, Henry G. Sanders, Storm Reid, Susan Kelechi Watson, Brie Larson, Constance Wu, Niecy Nash, Rosario Dawson, Janet Mock, Rashida Jones, Mindy Kaling, and Blue Ivy Carter.[78]

Film distribution and production

In 2010 DuVernay began AFFRM (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement), her own company to distribute films made by or focusing on black people. DuVernay refers to AFFRM as "not so much a business, but a call to action":[79] Although building strong business foundations for films is a priority, DuVernay stresses that the driving force of the organization is activism.[80]

In 2015 the company rebranded itself under the name ARRAY, promising a new focus on women filmmakers as well.

DuVernay also owns Forward Movement, a film and television production company.[80]

Future projects

In 2013, she announced development on a narrative feature film entitled Part of the Sky and set in Compton.[81]

In 2015, it was announced that DuVernay would be writing, producing, and directing a fictional account which will focus on the "social and environmental" aspects of Hurricane Katrina while including a love story and a murder mystery.[82] David Oyelowo was said to be part of the project.[83]

In 2018, it was announced that DuVernay would be directing a New Gods film for the DC Extended Universe.[84]

Other work

In September 2013, DuVernay started a podcast series called The Call-In,[85] a series of phone conversations recorded by AFFRM of Black filmmakers of feature narrative and documentary work.

On March 14, 2015, DuVernay gave a keynote address[86] at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival.[87][88] In the speech, she shared that she was the seventh choice of people asked to direct Selma[89] and described her experience at the 2015 Oscars, while being an honor to be able to attend, it was just "a room in L.A."[90]

In February 2018 it was announced that DuVernay, along with producer Dan Lin and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, had launched the Evolve Entertainment Fund. The fund's mission is to promote inclusion and provide an opportunity for under-served communities to pursue a dream in the entertainment industry.[91]

Style and themes

Michael T. Martin says, "DuVernay is among the vanguard of a new generation of African American filmmakers who are the busily undeterred catalyst for what may very well be a black film renaissance in the making."[80] He further speaks of DuVernay’s mission and "call to action" which constitutes a strategy "to further and foster the black cinematic image in an organized and consistent way, and to not have to defer and ask permission to traffic our films: to be self-determining."[80]



Year Title Credited as Notes
Director Story writer Screenwriter Producer
2006 Saturday Night Life Yes Yes No Short film
2007 Compton in C Minor Yes No No Yes Documentary film
2008 This is the Life:
How the West Was One
Yes Yes Yes Documentary film
Co-producer with Spencer Averick, Isaac Klotz, Ellene Miles and Omid Walizadeh
2010 I Will Follow Yes Yes Yes Narrative film debut
Co-producer with Denise Sexton, Howard Barish, Tilane Jones and Molly M. Mayeux
2012 Middle of Nowhere Yes Yes Yes Co-producer with Howard Barish, Paul Garnes and Tilane Jones
2013 The Door Yes Yes Yes Short film from Women's Tales
Co-producer with Howard Barish and Tilane Jones
2013 Say Yes Yes Yes No Short film for Ebony Fashion Fair Cosmetics[92]
2014 Selma Yes No Uncredited Executive
2016 August 28:
A Day in the Life of a People
Yes Yes Yes Documentary short film for the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Co-producer with Paul Garnes, Tammy Garnes and Tilane Jones
2016 13th Yes Yes Yes Documentary film
Co-writer with Spencer Averick
Co-producer with Spencer Averick, Howard Barish, Tilane Jones, Mercedes Yolanda Cooper and Michael Nell
2018 A Wrinkle in Time Yes No No No First big-budget film
TBA New Gods Yes Yes No No Co-story writer with Kario Salem


Year Title Role Notes
2010 TV One Night Only: Live from the Essence Music Festival Director, writer Television documentary
2010 My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women and Hip Hop Director, executive producer Television documentary
2010 Essence Presents: Faith Through the Storm Director, writer, producer Television documentary
2013 Venus Vs. Director, writer Television documentary
2013 HelloBeautiful Interludes Live: John Legend Director Television documentary
2013 Scandal Director Episode "Vermont is for Lovers, Too"
2015 For Justice Director, executive producer Unaired television pilot
2015–2016 Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3 Director Series of three commercials for Apple Music
2016–present Queen Sugar Creator, writer, director, executive producer Television series
2017 Family Feud Director, writer, producer Music video for Jay-Z ft. Beyoncé
TBA The Red Line Executive producer Television series

Awards, nominations, honors

Year Award Category Work Result
2011 African-American Film Critics Best Screenplay I Will Follow Won
2012 Black Reel Awards Best Screenplay Nominated
Best Director Nominated
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Independent Motion Picture Nominated
Sundance Film Festival Directing Award Middle of Nowhere Won
Grand Jury Prize Nominated
Film Independent Spirit Awards Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award Won
Humanitas Prize Sundance Film Nominated
African-American Film Critics Best Independent Film Won
Best Screenplay Won
Best Picture Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Best Woman Screenwriter Nominated
Women Film Critics Circle Josephine Baker Award Won
2013 Black Reel Awards Best Director Won
Best Screenplay Won
Best Film Nominated
Gotham Awards Best Feature Nominated
2014 Online Film Critics Society Award Best Director Selma Nominated
Black Film Critics Circle Best Director Won[101]
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Best Director Won
Breakthrough Film Artist Won
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award Best Director Nominated
Georgia Film Critics Association Best Director Nominated
Breakthrough Award Nominated
Golden Globe Award Best Director Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Best Director Nominated
Best Woman Director Won
Female Icon of the Year Won
Critics' Choice Movie Awards Best Director Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Director Nominated
Film Independent Spirit Awards Best Director Nominated
African-American Film Critics Association Best Director Won
Black Reel Awards Black Reel Award for Best Director Won
NAACP Image Award Outstanding Director Nominated
Online Film Critics Society Best Director Nominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards Best Director Nominated
2016 Grammy Awards Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Best Woman Director 13th Won
Outstanding Achievement by a Woman in the Film Industry Won
Black Reel Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Feature Documentary Won
Critics' Choice Documentary Awards Best Director (TV/Streaming) Won
Women Film Critics Circle Best Woman Storyteller (Screenwriting Award) Won
Courage in Filmmaking Won
2017 Academy Award Best Documentary Feature Nominated
Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special Won
Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming Nominated
Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming Won

DuVernay test

Main article: Bechdel test

The "DuVernay test" is the race equivalent of the Bechdel test (for women in movies), as suggested by New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis in January 2016, asking whether "African-Americans and other minorities have fully realized lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories."[102] It aims to point out the lack of people of color in Hollywood movies, through a measure of their importance to a particular movie or the lack of a gratuitous link to white actors.[103]


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