Fashion and Friendship Explored on Film

Director Ava DuVernay talks to The Root about working with Prada, Gabrielle Union and Alfre Woodard.

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The rest of the women are all women I've been wildly interested in for a lot of different reasons. Emayatzy was someone I was close friends with and obviously worked with on Middle of Nowhere. I wanted to give her something completely opposite of the character Ruby. I was also working with Goapele, who contributed music to Middle of Nowhere, at the same time I was working on The Door. She'd expressed interest in acting, and I thought that this film would be a nice first collaboration in that arena.

With Adepero, I'm just spellbound. I'm a huge fan of Pariah and a huge fan of hers. She's a very dynamic sister. And then Gabrielle is just the quintessential leading lady. I worked with her as a publicist on Deliver Us From Eva. So it was a nice 360 to have her be the leading lady in a film of my own.

TR: OK, so we have to talk about the amazing clothes featured in every single frame of the film. How did you weave Miu Miu's gorgeous designs into your story line?

AD: The Women's Tales series is all about looking to Miu Miu's current line, so it started with the clothes. I looked at Mrs. Prada's designs and thought, "Who would be the woman who wears these clothes?" The clothes were highly structured. They belonged to a certain kind of sister of a certain age. So I created the story from what I saw in the designs.

TR: Black women are rarely represented in high fashion, but in The Door the clothes don't look out of place. How did you combat the misconception that women of color and couture don't mix?

AD: I didn't want this to be a hyperreal kind of thing. Oftentimes when you see fashion on film, they're in some sort of hyperreality, and you have to create these environments where those clothes can even exist. My challenge was that I wanted these clothes to live in the everyday world. I wanted the clothes rooted in reality and yet be beautiful. I needed actresses who had chops. I needed people who could pull off these clothes, and I wanted an array of skin tones and age. I'm giving you coats and hair and eyelashes and the whole thing, and it has to all fit together.

The only way to do that was to create the story around the clothes, and challenge myself to figure out how on earth would a woman be wearing a red faux-fur leather outfit like Emayatzy does in the film. Who is that, and where is she going, and what is she about?

TR: Are you a fashionista at all?

TR: Music also plays a big role in The Door, which has a neo-soul vibe and co-stars Goapele in her first film role. How does music inform your filmmaking?

AD: Music is a big part of my filmmaking. I'm always really trying to use an array of artists that are working with sounds that we know in ways that we don't know. I'm interested in vocalists that are around the periphery of what's usually defined as black music. In Middle of Nowhere I reached out to a local DJ, Morgan Rhodes, and I brought her back for The Door. She brings me tons of music and lets me pick what I want.

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