Making History: Ava DuVernay

18th June 2020

Welcome to Screen and Film School’s spotlight series, Making History, where each week we’ll be celebrating the Black directors changing the game in an industry historically lacking diversity.

Ava DuVernay

“We have to find new ways to work without permission; new ways to go through doors that are closed to us; new ways to create our own audiences and tell our own stories and create our own doors.”

Winner of the Emmy, BAFTA and Peabody Awards, and an Academy Award nominee, Ava DuVernay is a writer, director, producer and film distributor. Having first picked up a camera aged 32, DuVernay has wasted no time in cementing her name as one of the most powerful women in film- from winning the Directing Award at Sundance Film Festival in 2012 for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere, to becoming the first black woman to direct a live-action film (A Wrinkle In Time) with a production budget of more than $100 million.

In a welcome but long overdue push for increased representation in the industry, it was recently announced that DuVernay had been elected to the Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, representing the directors branch. At the beginning of June DuVernay’s Array media company launched her newest project, LEAP (Law Enforcement Accountability Project). LEAP is a fund that will empower artists to create relevant works that keep alive the conversation about the over-policing of Black Americans, equality, and accountability for negligent officers. The fund is designed to pursue narrative change, aiming to commission projects across all forms of creative media including film, literature, theatre, dance, fine art and music.

Driven by the desire to amplify the work and voices of people of colour, her activist work and films alike are filled to the brim with compassion, heart, and humanity- and are more important than ever in today’s political and social climate. If you didn’t know her name before 2020, you certainly do now.



“Even if you think you know what’s coming, Selma hums with suspense and surprise. Packed with incident and overflowing with fascinating characters, it is a triumph of efficient, emphatic cinematic storytelling.” – A. O. Scott, The New York Times

Selma is a 2014 historical drama film based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches initiated and directed by James Bevel and led by Martin Luther King Jr., Hosea Williams, and John Lewis.

Selma received widespread critical acclaim, with particular praise given to DuVernay’s direction, and the film went on to be nominated for Best Picture at the 87th Academy Awards, taking home the award on the night for Best Original Song. It also received four Golden Globe Award nominations, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, and Best Actor, and won for Best Original Song.


“Powerful, infuriating and at times overwhelming, Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13TH will get your blood boiling and tear ducts leaking. It shakes you up, but it also challenges your ideas about the intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States.” – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

13TH is a 2016 documentary exploring the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States. It is titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1865, which abolished slavery throughout the United States and ended involuntary servitude except as a punishment for conviction of a crime.

In 2017, the film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards, making DuVernay the first black woman to be nominated by the academy as a director in a feature category. The film also won a Peabody Award in 2017 and a Columbia Journalism School duPont Award in 2018.

In the last 3 weeks, as the recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement has swept across the globe, millions of members (a 4,665% increase vs. 3 wks prior) have sought out 13TH on Netflix. The essential documentary is currently streaming on the service and has also been uploaded in full for free on YouTube as an educational resource.


When They See Us

“The series stands out because it insists that we see the boys as they once were and as they always saw themselves: innocent.” – Salamishah Tillet, The New York Times

When They See Us is a four-part 2019 television miniseries created, co-written, and directed by Ava DuVernay for Netflix. The series is based on the events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case and explores the lives and families of the five male suspects, aged between 14-16, who were falsely accused, prosecuted, and imprisoned for a crime they did not commit.

The miniseries was streamed by over 23 million viewers within its first month of release and received universal critical acclaim. It has received a record number of 16 nominations for Emmy Awards for writing, directing, and acting for stars and supporting actors, as well as winning the Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Limited Series.



“I’m not going to continue knocking that old door that doesn’t open for me. I’m going to create my own door and walk through that.”



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