“Conversations with Ava DuVernay – ‘A Call to Action’: Organizing Principles of an Activist Cinematic Practice” is drawn from discussions between DuVernay and Black Film Center/Archive director Michael T. Martin during the filmmaker’s 2013 visit to the BFC/A and IU Cinema.
MTM:You’re… an African American woman, in an industry dominated by men—primarily white men. How do you navigate this terrain?
AV: There was a time when I was knocking on doors and concerned with being recognized in dominant culture. I’ve found a space where the terrain is different, where I’m embraced by people like me, and where I’m building new ways of doing things, as opposed to trying to insert myself in a place that might not be welcoming. So, I’m concerned with my own house. If people want to visit from other houses, that’s great. It was something about turning my back on those desires and concentrating on what was in front of me and what was really beautiful, and organic within my own community and culture that started to ignite interest from the outside in.
MTM:Any stories to tell when you knocked on those doors?
AV: I can tell you on what doors not to knock. I was a publicist for many years. I had an agency—the DuVernay Agency—specializing in marketing, publicity, studio product, TV, film. I would find myself sitting in rooms listening to all kinds of bizarre things about what black people do, and who we are, and how to reach us. I’d be like, “Wow, this is crazy.” When I started, I was very clear that either my films were going to end up with people in a room like that, or they would not be let into those rooms at all. Either way wasn’t good. So, I had to figure out, even before making them, what would be the fate of my films. And that’s what got me looking, as a black woman, to our own community. I started filmmaking from that place. I never took my films, reels under my arm, knocking on unwelcoming doors. And it was only because I had the knowledge of a publicist that I knew what that place was like. And that’s a unique experience because most new filmmakers have never been in those rooms listening to those conversations. So, there’s a sense of hope that your films are going to transcend preconceived notions of black people, or women, or what this film’s going to be, or should be. And having been in those rooms, I said “I’m not going to go that route, I’m going to carve out another place”.
Full interview available here: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/blackcamera.6.1.57