Ava DuVernay Takes On America’s Prison System in New Film

Her new documentary, The 13th, opens the New York Film Festival

The New Republic’s October issue features a fascinating in-depth interview with Ava DuVernay, director of the Oscar-nominated Selma, about prison reform, cinema segregation, and the neighborhood where she grew up.

 

The director, whose new film takes on America’s prison system, also talks candidly about being a black woman in Hollywood, using cameras to tackle police violence, and her thoughts on Election 2016.

 

Selma entered DuVernay into the pantheon of important black directors and earned her wide acclaim. Since then, her power and influence as a director have only grown deeper with each project. She is unafraid to use her camera to disrupt and issue a serious demand to viewers, as consumers and citizens, to look deeply at black life and black representation in American cinema.

 

She is unique because of the rarity of her race and her gender in Hollywoodwhich reveals her enormous capability not to let the status quo stand in her way but even more because she refuses to look merely to the past and mine it for comfortable, stagnant material. Instead, much like Meg Murry, the protagonist of A Wrinkle in Timethe next film she is set to direct—DuVernay works to thread together the past continuous.

 

photo: source

photo: source

Below are excerpts from the interview below.

On being a black woman in Hollywood
I work in an industry that was founded upon the psychology of The Birth of a Nation. If you are a woman in Hollywood, if you are of color, particularly if you’re black, the founding images of cinema are adverse to your very humanity. And if the images of the medium you work in are adverse to your very humanity, then every action is a reaction. So everything I do tries to provide contrast. I try and pivot from the characterization of what women should be, what black people should be, what black women should be. I try to counter the presentation of black life—within Hollywood, within the studio system, within what makes it to theaters.
On capturing police violence on camera
It’s important for us to talk about the ways in which black people have asked the wider world to bear witness to their pain over time. So much of the civil rights movement was orchestrated for newspapers, for cameras. The reason Selma popped the way it did was because it invaded American televisions for the first time. That image was powerful, and we’re in this current moment because of images. There is no tape of Trayvon Martin, there is no tape of Michael Brown, of the actual acts against them. All you have are images of the bodies, prone and gone. But it’s not just the body—it’s the life taken from the body. So those images need to be balanced with images of black humanity not in distress and chaos.
Click here to read the full interview on New Republic.


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