Fashion and Friendship Explored on Film

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

Ava DuVernay (Getty Images Entertainment)

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.

There’s also one artist that I’m kind of committed to showcasing in all of my films, Ra-Re Valverde. I just think she’s stunning, so I’m going to keep putting her in my movies until someone gives her a big record deal.

TR: As a filmmaker, you seem to focus on how women make it to the other side of pain and grief. What draws you to those types of stories?

AD: I would describe it perhaps less burdened by the things we allowed ourselves to be burdened by. Right now I’m very interested in the idea of what happens when we become unanchored from the thing we believe anchors us, completes us. Who are you when you stand alone? For the last couple of years that’s something I’ve been exploring in my stories. That’s definitely something that I want to explore from a couple of different angles — looking at the ways in which we have to become whole on our own.

TR: What’s next for you?

AD: I’m in the middle of postproduction on a documentary I’m doing on Venus Williams for ESPN Films. It’s called Venus VS, and it will be out this summer. The film is specifically about her activism and feminism around equal pay in tennis. Up until recently in tennis, men and women were paid unequally. Serena was like, “I’m winning all these Wimbledons, and I’m not going to have that.” It was a huge story in the U.K., but that story and her fight for equality never really reached U.S. media.

I’m also in development for my next feature film. I’m up for the Affinity Award, where Heineken will grant the winner $20,000, and that will help us get to the finish line so that we can make the film.

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.