Ava DuVernay

For showing an icon from all angles.

Ava DuVernay
Left to right: David Oyelowo (as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) discusses a scene with Director/Executive Producer Ava DuVernay on the set of SELMA. [Photo: Atsushi Nishijima, Paramount Pictures, Pathé, and Harpo Films]

Selma, Ava DuVernay’s biopic of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has made DuVernay one of the most talked-about directors in Hollywood, as well as the first female African-American director to have a film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. The film, which depicts the civil rights leader both galvanizing the historic voting rights campaign and taking out the kitchen trash, was also a win for AFFRM, the organization DuVernay founded in 2010 to help promote and distribute black independent films. “I always say the best creativity happens within limits,” she says of Selma’s mere $20 million budget. “It’s really embracing those limits and letting them push you to the edge.” She’ll have plenty of “edge” to explore in her next film, a love story/murder-mystery set during Hurricane Katrina that stars Selma lead David Oyelowo. DuVernay is also developing a pilot for CBS and a series for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network. On television, she says, “I don’t have to relegate my stories to 90 minutes. I can actually have 13 hours.”


Bonus Round

Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?

It’s all around. Nothing’s ever boring. I’m never bored. Even if I’m sitting with my oldest cousin out in the country in Alabama and no one else is around. No way that’s boring. I’m going to sit there, I’m gonna watch what she does, I’m gonna listen to every story. Everything seeps in. Like I’m standing in line at the pharmacy, I’m not bored. I’m looking at that lady wiping her snotty kid’s nose–like, is she really gonna use her hand? Wow, that’s love. What’s her story?

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

I always write down five things that I’m grateful for. I usually do it on my Blackberry. I still have a Blackberry, without shame. I type on my Blackberry. It’s a good way to check in with myself.

What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?

How many questions I have to answer every day. That’s really what film-makers do. There are quick decisions you have to make every day from every department, every actor, about every color of wallpaper, every piece of music. How does the line read? How do we get around that? We don’t have enough money? It’s constant puzzle solving.

What’s your favorite Twitter or Instagram account and why?

On Instagram I like Travel Noire. It’s basically beautiful pictures of black people traveling the world. A picture of two little boys in Madagascar. These are people traveling from another place. Black people in places you would never think of seeing them. I’ll turn on my Instagram and I’ll see a woman with beautiful dreadlocks in the middle of Ireland.

Who outside of your field inspires you the most and why?

My dad. He has a completely different energy from me. He’s a completely opposite kind of person. All the qualities and attributes that I aspire to have, he has. When I’m impatient, I call him because he’s patient. When I’m upset, so mad, I call him because he never gets mad.


About the author

Nicole LaPorte is an LA-based senior writer for Fast Company who writes about where technology and entertainment intersect. She previously was a columnist for The New York Times and a staff writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Variety