Are Black women being heard in Hollywood? Ava DuVernay won’t be sitting around waiting to find out. The publicist-turned-writer-and-filmmaker has continually taken matters into her own hands, from financing her own feature film to becoming a distributor of Black films.
Here are five more things to know about the ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Visionary Award honoree.
1. She was the first Black woman to win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival for 2012’s Middle of Nowhere.
2. She began her Hollywood career as a film studio publicist and marketer. She was inspired to start directing her own films while working on 2004’s Collateral with Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. “I was on the set like, Michael Mann is cool and everything, but why is he telling stories here?” she told ESSENCE. “I should be telling stories here, because I have stories from these streets.” She soon began writing Middle of Nowhere.
3. In 2008, she spent over $48,000 of her savings to direct the film I Will Follow, a semi autobiographical look at overcoming her aunt’s death. The late Roger Ebert called I Will Follow “one of the best films I’ve seen about the loss of a loved one.”
4. She founded the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) in 2011 with the sole mission of helping distribute Black independent films. To date AFFRM has released indie films like Big Words, Restless City and DuVernay’s first feature film, I Will Follow.
5. She’s been tapped to direct Selma, a drama about Dr. Martin Luther King‘s 1965 landmark voting rights campaign, co-produced by Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt’s Plan B. production company.
Join our red carpet live coverage of ESSENCE’s Black Women in Hollywood event this Thursday, February 24 at 11:30am PST, honoring Ava DuVernay, Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Lupita Nyong’o.