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Ava DuVernay Didn’t Want to be a Filmmaker: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Her

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ava dBy Marie Seva

Did you know that Ava DuVernay said that in her youth, she never desired to be a filmmaker? But circumstances in her life led her to be very accomplished in that career.  Discover more interesting  facts about this savvy lady who is on the rise in the film industry.

1. DuVernay was born on Aug. 24, 1972 in Long Beach, California as Ava Marie DuVernay. Her mother, Darlene Maye, had been an HR manager and a preschool administrator. DuVernay was the eldest child and she had four siblings.   After the divorce of her mother and her father, Joseph DuVernay, Jr.,  she had a stepfather, Murray Maye, who was a businessman in the carpet and flooring industry.  In her college days, she spent her summers in Hayneville, Alabama with her mother.
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2.DuVernay completed her high school studies in 1990 at the Saint Joseph High School, an exclusive school for girls in Lakewood, California.  She graduated in 1995 from the University of California in Los Angeles with a Bachelor of Arts in English and in African American studies.
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3.DuVernay’s career started off with working for several public relations offices including FOX and Savoy Pictures.  She then opened her own company, The DuVernay Agency, which later became DVA Media and Marketing and has provided marketing and publicity services to over 100 feature films and television programs directed by big names in the industry such as Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg.

4.In her film Selma, where the depiction of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. played a major role, DuVernay was not granted the rights to use the actual speeches of King. But with enough tenacity to finish the film, she achieved alternative ways of getting his message portrayed.
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5.DuVernay’s resume include a number of firsts. She was the first African-American female to win the Best Director Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012, and won for the film Middle of Nowhere.  She is the first African-American female director to have been nominated for a Golden Globe Award, and was nominated for Selma. And she is the first African-American woman to have directed a film (also Selma) that was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

6.DuVernay’s experiences served as inspiration for her work. The summers she had spent in Alabama were said to have had a great impact on Selma. I Will Follow was inspired by DuVernay’s aunt, Denise Sexton, who was pronounced with cancer.  DuVernay dedicated two years to caring for her aunt and putting effort into filling her last days with as much joy as possible.  Roger Ebert acclaimed I Will Follow, saying that the film was “one of the best films I’ve seen about coming to terms with the death of a loved one.”

7.In an interview with Gwen Ifill regarding the highly acclaimed film, Selma, DuVernay was asked to respond to the fact that some people thought the civil rights film was about the life of a woman portrayed by Oprah Winfrey.  DuVernay said that she understood it was because of the current times.  She expressed, though, that she is surprised and disturbed by how much the current generation does not know, including the incident about the “four little girls and the Birmingham bombing.”  She said, “Selma doesn’t resonate with people in the way that it should, as being just such a cornerstone for democracy, in terms of what it’s done for voting rights and equality.”

8.When asked why she didn’t use King’s name for Selma, DuVernay said that she wanted to note that different ideas sprung from “a bunch of different organizations, personalities, [and] people” who had united through that “one voice that amplified the message” (King’s). All of those entities collectively contributed to the achievement of a common goal.

9.DuVernay was conferred with the Tribeca Film Institute’s Heineken Affinity Award. This came with a $20,000 prize and support for her forthcoming programs and projects in the film arena.

10.In an op-ed by Joseph Califano, he stated that Selma should be “ruled out of Christmas and Awards season” because of the way it portrayed former U.S. President Lyndon B Johnson. DuVernay’s response was, “I just think that is disturbing.  It’s against the very ideals of what Johnson’s legacy that we’re talking about stood for.  If we’re talking about equality, if we’re talking about voice, then let this voice be heard.”

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