Ava DuVernay on Moving Beyond the Black-Film ‘Trend’ and Becoming the Norm

Ava DuVernay

It’s hard out there for a black filmmaker.

But it’s also hard out there for an Asian filmmaker. And a Latino movie director. And a female director or screenwriter. It’s hard, period, if you don’t fit the standard mold of white and male in Hollywood.


But Selma director Ava DuVernay is determined to change that.

This week the black-film-distribution collective she started in 2010, AFFRM (the African-American Festival Releasing Movement), relaunched as Array—a new distribution platform for filmmakers of diverse backgrounds, including blacks, Latinos, women and more.


“We expanded to release the work of not just black filmmakers but of brown filmmakers, Native filmmakers, Middle Eastern filmmakers, women filmmakers, anyone outside of the dominant gaze,” DuVernay told The Root. “We’re using our tools and our tactics to bring in more varied voices in cinema.”

And these are necessary tools and tactics, considering the state of films by women and people of color in Hollywood. Despite the success of Straight Outta Compton, there is a tendency for the major studios, and even the independent circuit, to see black films as a niche or something “trendy.” Do studios actually want to make more black films or just clones of Compton in hopes of duplicating that success? And even though there “seems” to be more black films coming out, with the release this weekend of the Michael Ealy and Sanaa Lathan vehicle The Perfect Guy, DuVernay says that any black-film boom is more illusion than fact.


“You’re not seeing a lot of black films out. There’s not a lot of black films out in the grand scheme of things,” DuVernay said. “You just have a handful of films. That’s always been the case. [When you have] less than a dozen [black films], we call that a lot, and that’s in an industry that’s putting out hundreds of films a year. So the whole thing’s quite skewed, and it really comes down to there being a trend of black films, brown films, films with people of color, films by women. As long as we embrace it as a trend, as a hot topic, it will never become the norm.”

DuVernay said Array is creating a space where diverse films are the norm, not trends or exceptions.


“Every single day, every single year, every single season, whether there’s a black film that’s No. 1 at the box office, or a black series that’s No. 1 on TV or not, these voices are important, and it’s not just because there’s a hit right now,” DuVernay said. “It’s because we’ve been doing this work and we’re going to be there when it’s hot and be there when this is not. We have to try to create normalcy for who we are as opposed to try fitting into a space where we are not, quote unquote, ‘the norm.’ It's about finding a place where we are the norm, where we are the standard-bearers, and that’s what we’re trying to do with Array.”

Previously, AFFRM released two films a year by black filmmakers. DuVernay hopes to see that number increase under Array, with a possible four films to be released by the group next year. Right now Array is releasing two films—Sara Blecher’s Ayanda and the Mechanic (“A really, really sweet film,” said DuVernay) and Takeshi Fukunaga’s “gorgeous” and “darker” Out of My Hand.


“These stories are important; the studios aren't putting out these stories,” said DuVernay. “They’re beautiful. They’re gorgeous, and we believe that there are audiences for them, and that’s what we’re trying to do: connect artists with audiences.”

DuVernay said that as Array, the collective will remain committed to black filmmakers, but that she wanted to enlarge the effort to encompass others who struggle to break through the Hollywood machine.


“Traveling around the world with Selma, I met so many filmmakers of different kinds, and we definitely have a hard road as black filmmakers, but there are some groups of filmmakers that have a harder road than we do,” DuVernay said. “Just imagine the Native filmmaker. When was the last time you seen a film by an indigenous person? Those films are just not being amplified. And when they are being made, there’s not an easy place for them to go.

“You find that so often,” she continued. “Asian-American filmmakers having to challenge, getting their voices out there. Latino filmmakers in the independent space having to challenge; that’s what we’re here to do. … Across the board, the numbers are quite dire [for] women-led projects and how they’re being received and how they’re being distributed, so there’s a lot of work to do there. We felt like [Array] had some tools and tactics we could lend to the effort, so that’s what we’re doing.”

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