15 Inspiring Ava DuVernay Quotes for Writers & Filmmakers
As the first black woman nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director, Ava DuVernay is ushering in a new era for black filmmakers.
Initially starting as a journalist with a CBS internship, DuVernay quickly became disillusioned with the field and moved into public relations, working at 20th Century Fox and Savoy Pictures.
By 1999, she had created her own PR firm where she worked on campaigns for movies and shows as well as launching the Urban Beauty Collective, a promotional network for African American beauty salons and barbershops.
A love of movies led her into her first foray into filmmaking six years later. In 2005, DuVernay made her first short film called Saturday Night Life – a 12 minute piece about a struggling single mother. Soon after, she debuted her first two documentaries, Compton in C Minor and This is the Life.
By 2012, Ava DuVernay had two narrative films under her belt, I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere, which received recognition and awards at festivals such as Chicago International and Sundance.
Mainstream recognition came two years later with the release of Selma. The film was nominated for several awards including Best Picture at the Academy Awards, where it was the only entry directed by a person of color.
DuVernay’s reputation continued to grow and reached a new peak in 2016 with the release of her Netflix documentary, The 13th. The 13th garnered great acclaim from critics and the public alike, often cited as one of the most important documentaries on race of our time.
This brought widespread recognition to Ava DuVernay and has earned her a reputation as one of the most revolutionary black filmmakers of today. In 2019 she cemented such a reputation, with a Netflix series about The Central Park Five, When They See Us, of which she created, directed and co-wrote.
Before that, her adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time for Disney was her first foray into blockbuster territory and proved her versatility knows no bounds.
In order to celebrate DuVernay and share some of her wisdom, we have compiled 15 of her best quotes.
Ava DuVernay on… Daring to Dream
- “For me, it’s a question of the way we pursue our creative dreams. There is something in our culture that says your dream or the thing you’re pursuing has to happen immediately and all at once, and that is destructive to the creative spirit. I just embraced the idea that this was going to be a gradual exploration of the thing I was interested in – making films – and gave myself permission to go slowly.”
Ava DuVernay on… Limitations
- “Ignore the glass ceiling and do your work. If you’re focusing on the glass ceiling, focusing on what you don’t have, focusing on the limitations, then you will be limited. My way was to work, make my short… make my documentary… make my small films… use my own money… raise money myself… and stay shooting and focused on each project.”
- “Don’t wait for permission to do something creative.”
Ava DuVernay on… the Beauty of Film
- “It sounds kind of flighty, filmmaker-y, but I believe films are a piece of art. They are meant to be what they’re meant to be, and sometimes the artist is informed by the film of what it needs to be.”
- The terrain of the face is the most dynamic thing you can point the camera at, to me. I love production design and bells and whistles and all of that. I love a technograin as much as the next gal, but a great actor’s face? What else should we be looking at?
- “In documentaries, there’s a truth that unfolds unnaturally, and you get to chronicle it. In narratives, you have to create the situations so that the truth will come out.”
Ava DuVernay on… Being a Good Filmmaker
- “Filmmakers need to realize that their job isn’t done when they lock picture. We must see our films through. Studios no longer do this for a large percentage of films… So you must find and nurture your own audience and make sure your film has a life.”
Ava DuVernay on… Change and Diversity in the Industry
- “All the traditional models for doing things are collapsing; from music to publishing to film, and it’s a wide open door for people who are creative to do what they need to do without having institutions block their art.”
- “Is there deeply embedded change within our industry? And I would say, as a black filmmaker, it’s easy for me to focus my attention on black work, but true change would include brown work, and it would include work by Asian-Americans, and it would include natives, and it would include women, and it would include more LGBTQ voices.
- “Time will tell… whether folks want to point and stare at the black woman filmmaker who made a certain kind of film, and pat her on the back, or if they want to actually roll up the sleeves and do a little bit of work so that there can be more of me coming through.”
Ava DuVernay on… the Depiction of Blackness
- “Black people loving and losing is something we don’t see enough of. We’re always in these heightened situations like something big is happening, something funny, or something violent. And you know what? Sometimes we die of breast cancer or a broken heart. Things happen that are just not being explored cinematically. It’s time we reinvigorated that type of film.”
- “I’m interested in the lives of Black folk as the subject. Not the predicate, not the tangent. These stories deserve to be told — not as sociology, not as spectacle, not as a singular event that happens every so often – but regularly and purposefully as truth and as art on an ongoing basis.”
Ava DuVernay on… Trying New Things
- “I made my first film when I was 35, so I firmly believe that you don’t have to be one thing in life. If you’re doing something, and you have a desire to do something different, give it a try.”
Ava DuVernay on… Making Your Own Way
- “If you’re doing something outside of dominant culture, there’s not an easy place for you. You will have to do it yourself.”
- “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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