Ava DuVernay Gives A Beautiful And Emotional Definition For 'Woke' In This Speech

It took the death of her father for the celebrated director to see 'wokeness' in a different light.

Director Ava Duvernay broke down her meaning of “woke” with a moving personal anecdote about how the Queen Sugar cast showed up for her during one of her hardest life moments.
 
“Woke is not necessarily activism or protesting or all the things that we do…” she explained to the audience at ESSENCE Fest 2017 during her acceptance speech as a 2017 Woke Women Award honoree. “It’s about being there for each other in our time of need.”
 
The show’s cast did just that for her about a year ago when Duvernay’s father passed away. His death, however, occurred just three weeks after she had shot the show's premiere episode. In that episode, protagonist Charlotte “Charley” Bordelon’s father suffers a stroke, forcing her to reunite with her family in Louisiana.
 
“And in some way, I was in the same situation as the characters,” explained Duvernay.
 
Duvernay traveled to Montgomery, Ala. for the funeral. And she was surprised when all the whole cast of Queen Sugar showed up for it as well.
 
“They drove from New Orleans to Montgomery. All of them in their own cars. They figured out how to get there,” she said. “But they were all there.”
 
“And that is woke to me,” she added, emphasizing that support and community are core values of wokeness.
 
“The wokeness of our community and what we have done throughout the generations to survive is to hold on to each other and to make sure that we are okay. And I encourage us and celebrate that we continue to do that.”

SHOW TRANSCRIPT

For me, a big thing about this whole idea of being woke is about not focusing on yourself, is about togetherness and family. I wanna give you an example of that. It might make me emotional, I'm a try not to. Shout out to my mom who's here. [APPLAUSE] But About a little over a year ago my father passed away. Very, very close to me, very, very close to him. I love him dearly, even to this day. He's standing next to me right now. And when we were just starting to shoot Queen Sugar, I had shot the first episode, if any of you remember the first episode. In the first episode, their father passes away. It was less than a month later, it was about three weeks later, my father passed away. And in some way, I was in the same situation as the characters. I was in Montgomery, Alabama, which is where my father is from, where he lived, and I was at the funeral. And I look up and I saw, the cast of Queen Sugar. They drove from New Orleans to Montgomery, all of them. In their own cars figured out a way to get there but they were all there. I think Tina Lifford came from Los Angeles, people just came in. And that is Woke to me. Woke is not necessarily activism, or protesting, or all the things that we do, and that we should do, some of us do. It's about being there for each other in our moment of ned. [APPLAUSE] Maybe you're not an activist in a sense of you're out with Patrice and I, in marches, or you're planning actions, or you're writing your congressman, or you're doing any of those things, but the wokeness of our community and what we have done throughout the generations to survive is to hold on to each other, to make sure that we're okay. And I just encourage us and celebrate that we continue to do that.
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