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Visionary Filmmaker Ava DuVernay Talks Uplifting Black Women in BWIH Speech

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Ava Duvernay at the 7th annual ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Photo Credit: Michael Rowe

“This gathering is my favorite of the year,” award-winning director Ava DuVernay gushed during the 7th annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon. This year, DuVernay received the Visionary Award for her work in the industry.

Though she began as a publicist, DuVernay’s adept storytelling and keen eye for detail has made her one of the hottest directors in the business.  She was the first Black woman to win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival for her film Middle of Nowhere, and has garnered critical acclaim for both her narrative and documentary projects Venus Vs., The Door, My Mic Sounds Nice, and I Will Follow. While some shy away from being labeled as a “Black director,” DuVernay demands it and feels it’s her duty to tell stories about Black women.

“As a Black woman filmmaker I feel that’s my job: visibility. And my preference within that job is Black subjectivity. Meaning I’m interested in the lives of Black folk as the subject. Not the predicate, not the tangent,” she told the crowd. “[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, as do the stories of all the women you love.”

As DuVernay looked out over the ballroom full of Hollywood’s most powerful Black women, she remembered being inspired by ESSENCE Magazine.

“For so many years I read ESSENCE in awe of the mighty women in its pages, jotting down names in my journal, tips, folding down pages, cutting out pictures of a career woman who were an inspiration, thinking, ‘Wow, she’s someone I want to be like.’

“Then it struck me, my sisters, when I read ESSENCE and I saw that list and read so many of your names, I personally knew almost everyone on that list in some way. So many sisters I’ve crossed passed with, worked with or lifted me up. I realized, someone is cutting out our pictures.”

DuVernay knows a thing or two about connecting with influential Black women. Her next project, a biopic about civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., is being produced by previous Black Women in Hollywood honoree Oprah Winfrey.

She thanked Winfrey in her speech. “To a woman that I met at this event last year, who in the last six months has morphed from a mild-mannered icon I admired from afar to, thank God, my next film’s producer—Ms. Oprah Winfrey.”

At the close of her speech, the 41-year-old director implored the women at the luncheon to use their magic to support each other in the creation of more stories for and about Black women.

“This is our time,” DuVernay said. “And I ask the question: What will we do with it? Because where there is a woman there is magic, and she can share or not share her powers.

“I think the key for us is in the sharing and the interconnectedness that vibrates in this room every year, and how we take that to the next level for each other and for the women who aren’t in this room.”

PHOTO GALLERY: ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Red Carpet Recap

  • Honoree Lupita Nyong'o poses with her award at the 7th annual ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
  • Kerry Washington at the 7th annual ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
  • Oprah Winfrey, Sidney Poitier and honoree Cheryl Boone Isaacs on stage at the 7th annual ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
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