The WGA writers strike and the SAG-AFTRA actors strike may have pushed pause on American movie and TV productions, but for international film festivals it’s business as usual. These events are the first major stop on the road to awards season, so they’re still very influential for projects looking to build momentum. One of these is Ava DuVernay’s Origin. According to Deadline, on Tuesday, it was announced as an Official Selection in the 80th Venice International Film Festival in September, a first for a Black woman.
The film is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. DuVernay and Wilkerson co-wrote the script which focuses on how the country’s never-ending racism is a direct by-product of America’s deeply rooted caste system. The movie’s cast features Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor; Niecy Nash-Betts; Audra McDonald; Blair Underwood; and Myles Frost.
As we saw throughout the 2022 lead-up to Awards Season, it’s crucial that films hit as many of these important festivals as possible. Filmmakers have to establish their projects as awards-worthy right from the start. For Black women, it’s vital that their films be seen on the same level as all the other highly touted titles making the rounds. Even with all her accomplishments and accolades, DuVernay is not starting from the same place as other filmmakers. When the “anonymous Oscar ballot” pieces circulated, it revealed what these awards voters, many of them older white men, really think about Black women openly advocating for their work.
In Entertainment Weekly, one particularly offensive comment on The Woman King, had someone described as a “longtime actor” saying, “Viola Davis and the lady director [Gina Prince-Bythewood] need to sit down, shut up, and relax. You didn’t get a nomination—a lot of movies don’t get nominations. Viola, you have one or two Oscars, you’re doing fine.”
These thoughts aren’t new or shocking. Unfortunately, they paint a very clear picture of how Hollywood views Black women. Add in that DuVernay regularly tackles issues surrounding racism and Black History, which leads to her films being labeled “controversial,” and it becomes even more important that she establishes the awards pedigree of her work early in the season.
Ava DuVernay has a lot of firsts on her resume, but as a Black woman, she’s constantly forced to prove herself. Entering into the Official Selection at Venice alongside notable directors like David Fincher and Bradley Cooper signals to the entire film community that she’s on their level and needs to be respected as such.