Black History Month: Ava DuVernay

Black History Month: Ava DuVernay

“I think that if we really want to break it down, that non-black filmmakers have had many, many years and many, many opportunities to tell many, many stories about themselves, and black filmmakers have not had as many years, as many opportunities, as many films to explore the nuances of our reality.”

As many of you are aware February is Black History Month, a time where we celebrate, highlight, and bring awareness to the impact and achievements of black history and culture on a global scale. For our part, Abbey Research is dedicating a blog series to women of color who are leaders, innovators, and boundary breakers.

The Good Doctors are both social scientists, who understand that the intersection of race and gender means that women of color, as opposed to white women, have different experiences, stories, voices, and struggles. This month we will write about four women of color who have impacted our lives, our understandings, who are fierce and formidable leaders on their own paths.

First up for this week, I (Dr. Hinson) will be talking about writer, director, producer extraordinaire Ava DuVernay. Though many may know her for directing and producing the Oscar-Nominated film Selma (2014), I first became aware of her work through encountering the brilliant and arresting documentary 13th (2016) which outlines the history of discrimination and inequality against people of color in the United States.

“If we’re forward thinking people, if we’re members of the world in a way that we believe in justice and dignity, than we have to [think about the reality of mass incarceration].”

From slavery and Jim Crow, to the disturbing reality of mass incarceration, the documentary brings together a wealth of knowledge about the development of the prison industrial complex and details the human cost of being the nation with the highest percentage of incarcerated people. For my part, 13th inspired me to further educate myself about the American prison system and culture, and to find my voice for prison reform.

Like we would expect of any filmmaker, DuVernay tells the stories that reflect aspects of her reality, but she also tells stories that educate and empower and humanize. By telling complex stories, ones which enlighten and challenge, DuVernay continues to influence the discourse around cultural representation, particularly the representation of black women in popular culture. Her more recent projects include directing and producing the show Queen Sugar (OWN Network), and directing and producing the screen adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time (2018), which showcases a diverse cast and a young black woman in the lead role.

In casting a film that reflects her reality, DuVernay is reflecting our reality. Humanity is a diverse tapestry of faces, cultures, and experiences. The more we recognize that reality, and give people time and space (and money) to tell their stories, the better we will understand the world we live in and the people with live with.

How are you celebrating Black History Month? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear from you! Tune in next week for Dr. Donnelly’s first entry of black ladies who lead!

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