Oscar Nom’d Director Ava DuVernay Hates Diversity…Here’s Why We Agree With Her

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Every year Elle Magazine holds its Women in Hollywood Awards where they honor the women both in front of and behind the camera who are pushing the needle in the film industry in powerful ways. At this year’s 22nd annual event, badass women such as Kate Winslet, Amy Schumer, Carey Mulligan, Salma Hayek and many more were celebrated for their achievements and shared their advice and experiences they have learned as women in film.

The magazine releases a number of special edition covers coinciding with the awards where readers get a glimpse into the women they are girl-crushing on right now. Comedian Amy Schumer talked about the need for more “girl squads” in the industry.

“I want women to lift each [other] up. Get more and more powerful and understand their worth,” she said at the event.

Zoe Saldana talked about how the need to please others decreases over time, due in part to women finding their own power. “Break free” from wanting to please people, she said.

“You kind of let go and you start giving a lot of people the finger. And then, you’re happy.”

But it was a speech by Oscar nominated director Ava DuVernay that really capped off the night in our opinion. One of the biggest problems Hollywood has is incorporated diversity into its mainstream. Although audiences have proven over and over again they will see a film with 1 or more female protagonists, women and men of color, and stories told from not just a white male perspective, there is still largely a reluctance to hire female producers, writers and directors, and women on screen have to fight to get equal pay and get the roles that best represent all the complexities of being female.

She started her speech by retelling a story told to her by one of her uncles from Alabama years ago. It was about a small all-black village in the South that was a haven for people of color away from a world during a time when integration was not the word of the day. Every person in the village wanted equal rights, yet they continued their daily work and daily lives.

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“While they paid attention to the rest of the world, supported change, and fought the struggle for recognition of their humanity and dignity…They didn’t allow their conversations to be wholly consumed by those who didn’t value them. They valued themselves. They kept themselves, and they cultivated joy,” she began.

She likened that village and the analogy to what women in Hollywood today are doing and the movement that is happening among directors, writers, producers, and actors. Ava believes the key is learning how to balance our fight for change and equal representation, with our daily lives.

“Our conversation shouldn’t be consumed with what he’s not doing or what they don’t value. We value us. We build our village. We grow stronger. We testify in commissions, and we write our own op-eds, and we push at every turn that’s necessary. We also blossom because we nourish one another. We focus on her​the woman sitting right next to you. We focus on us. It’s equally as important. If we don’t do both, I think we lose,” she said.

Ava is best known for her breakout role as the director of the Oscar nominated film ‘Selma’ which specifically focused on Martin Luther King Jr.’s march in Selma, Alabama, and his determination to get voting rights for black people during the Civil Rights era. It is arguably one of the most important pieces of American history, and certainly a powerful film. It was distributed in DVD form to schools around the country after its release in order for young children to learn about the struggle of the black people in the 1960s, fittingly at a time when racial tensions are yet again at an all-time high with all the police brutality and killings of black men and women we have seen on the news over the past few years.

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At the Women In Hollywood awards she shared the story of a male filmmaker friend of hers who like Ava had a breakout film at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Both Ava and this other guy were on the cusp of their major Hollywood careers. When they happened to meet later the same year at another major film festival, they both shared some good news. Ava had just been give $20 million to direct a film called ‘Selma’, and the male friend was given $150 million to direct a movie called ‘Jurassic World’. Yep, her friend is Colin Trevorrow, director of the major blockbuster film who is also slated to direct the new ‘Star Wars IX’ film coming out in 2019.

The difference is deafening. While Academy Award-nominated Ava has been lauded left right and center, we are yet to see movie studios bowing down to her genius, throwing hundreds of millions of dollars her way to direct a tentpole film. While she has nothing but love for her friend Colin, she is incredibly sad that female directors are still in a seemingly cave-man period of getting recognition in the industry, and it has to change.

The recent investigation by the ACLU into Hollywood’s discriminatory hiring practices toward female directors is hopefully going to makes changes on many levels, but in the meantime, Ava urges all women in the audience (and this is advice which can certainly be translated into all of our lives) to support our fellow sisters.

“While we focus on the outward measures, while we focus on our rights, we have to focus on our spirits and our fortitude and our courage and our bravery, and we do that by lifting up each other. I learned that from my community. I learned that from the struggle of black and brown people. I learned that from women and our struggle for our rights thus far. There’s more to do particularly in Hollywood, so we have to be vigilant. We have to ask our agents about that script by the woman screenwriter. We have to ask, ‘Hey, are there any women agents here that I could talk to?’ We have to ask our lawyers about women in the office. We have to ask when we’re thinking about directors or DPs, Will women interview? This is something that the powerful women who are in front of the camera can do for all of us,” she said.

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To end her powerful and challenging speech, she talks about the issue of diversity in a similar way that we have seen Shonda Rhimes talk about it (she claims she is not “diversifying” TV, but “normalizing” it). In fact, it has become such a problematic topic that Ava doesn’t even like the word, and after reading why, we have to agree with her.

“I really hate the word ‘diversity.’ It feels like medicine. Diversity is like, ‘Ugh. I have to do diversity.’ I recognize and celebrate what it is, but that word, to me, is a disconnect. There’s an emotional disconnect. Inclusion feels closer; belonging is even closer. Because we all belong to film. We all belong to television. We all belong to what this is. We look at Shondas and the Jills and the Oprahs and the Kathryns and all the women doing work behind the camera…So, I just want us to think about belonging. Think about who belongs. And welcoming people into that belonging,” she concluded.

While we have spoken a lot about the need for more diversity, understanding it from an inclusionary point of view rather than tokenism is an important aspect.

Once again we have enjoyed the Elle Magazine Women In Hollywood Awards, which shouldn’t be a necessity in 2015, but as Leah Chernikoff writes: “As long as women make up only 20% of Congress, as long as senior movie studio execs are 93% male, and only 4% of studio films are directed by women; as long as the President of the United States, the VP, the Speaker of the House, the President Pro Tem, the Secretaries of State, of the Treasury, of Defense, are all men—you have to go seven layers down to find a woman, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, on the succession plan—then I’d say, Yes, we need ‘women’s media.’ We need as many ‘women in’ gatherings that we can dream up.”

See what some of Hollywood’s biggest female stars had to say about some of their most iconic roles in the Elle Magazine Women In Hollywood 2015 Honoree video below:


 

 

 

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