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The 8 Most Badass Things Ava DuVernay Said About Being a Female Director

The 8 Most Badass Things Ava DuVernay Said About Being a Female Director

The name of indie film director Ava DuVernay has become a more well known one in recent months, considering the fact that she could very well be the first black woman to be nominated for Best Director for her work on “Selma,” the drama which details a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.-led protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Despite being snubbed by SAG this morning, leading man David Oyelowo has also been earning praise for his extremely accurate and emotional turn as Dr. King.

Last night, Paramount Pictures hosted a screening of “Selma,” which featured a Q&A with “CBS This Morning” host and Oprah BFF Gayle King inquiring into Duvernay’s process and the resulting film. Unsurprisingly, DuVernay had a lot to say about the state of female directors in the industry and how she chooses to address the issue. Naturally, DuVernay’s ballsy opinions were applauded by the audience. Here are the eight most badass things she had to say:

Why DuVernay Treats Everyone on Set with Respect 

King heard that DuVernay ran a tight set, but a respectful one. “I’ve heard that you treat everyone on the set, including extras, like they are number one on the call sheet. That you are very nurturing very caring, but when it comes time to shoot you are all about business. Where does that come from?” King asked. “I’ve been crew,” DuVernay replied. “I know what it feels like to be treated like the dirt under someone’s shoe when you’re working just as hard as the number one on the call sheet, just as hard as the director. It’s disrespect by omission. You’re just not there. And I never want anyone to feel that way on my sets.”

And She Expects The Same Respect Back

“With the crew, a lot of them had never been directed by a woman, and further than that a lot of them had never been directed by a black woman. And I was dealing with a lot of men, and we were in Atlanta, in the south. So I thought it was imperative to have a conversation so that we were clear whose job was what, and that mine was to be in charge. I needed them to know that I respected what they did and I intended for them to respect what I did and if at any point that broke down then they would no longer be there. In a very nice way! But the ladies know how we have to talk to the men sometimes. I’m part of a small but mighty tribe of women filmmakers. Not everyone’s had the experience of being directed by or led by a woman. And that’s just the industry that we’re in. So I thought it was important to have that conversation and I had no problems.” 

The Difference Between Male and Female Directors

King inquired of DuVernay if there really is a difference between how men and women approach directing. “It’s just about style, and I think it has to do with personality, DuVernay said. “It has a lot to do with what your interests are. Some directors are all about the camera, some directors are actor-directors, or writer-directors and don’t want a word of the script changed. I feel like every idea is a good idea. The fact that someone that I considered experienced enough or worthy enough to have on set, I’ll try to listen to every idea on the set. I’m like an idea hog.”

Female Directors Bring a Different Perspective

There’s one scene in the film in which Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo) confronts Martin about his infidelities. She plays a tape sent to her of what sounds like him engaging in sex with another woman. King asked how she chose to direct that scene. Oyelowo was instructed not to move his body, only his eyes, and Ejogo stood over him, stunning him into submission. “I’ve had some men tell me that that scene is terrifying. And as a woman who’s been on the other end of that, I said, ‘I know!’ I think that’s just the perspective of the director. The perspective of the storyteller becomes embedded in the story. I’d read some previous scripts of ‘Selma’ and previous scripts of Dr. King, written by men and directed by men, and their interest is in a very different place. They want to see the tape you heard, they want to see it. Which is fine, that’s a certain perspective. My interest was in, ‘What does your wife have to say?’ And that’s just my perspective and that’s the beautiful thing about diversity behind the camera. It has to happen. We have to have more kinds of people telling stories. A different kind of person changes a thing like that. And it’s no better or worse it’s just different.”

Adding Women is Necessary

King noted that not much had been heard about Diane Nash, who is portrayed by Tessa Thompson in the film. “I’m being praised for adding women, but I think we should be ashamed of ourselves if women are not there,” DuVernay said. “It’s really just adding back in who was there. All of the characters in the film are real people. It was important.”

Indie Experience Came in Handy

DuVernay shot “Selma” in 32 days with a budget of $20 million. King asked her if she had had any doubts that that would be enough. “I think I naively thought $20 million was going to be a lot of money and craft services was going to be like lobster rolls and we were going to be living large on set,” DuVernay said. “But $20 million dollars when you’re making a period piece, $20 million dollars when you’ve got speeches with churches filled with 500 people all in period costume. Period pretty much cuts that in half. But I went in feeling like I could do it, because I had made movies for $2 dollars and a paper clip. I’ve done it. There’s no way that you could tell me that $20 million isn’t enough to make a film because $20 million is a kachillion, that’s the scientific term, a kachillion times more than I’ve ever had. So while I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, I was very used to that bootstrap, not enough time, how do you get this done thinking. I shoot very fast. I come from a place where you don’t have enough hours in the day. I directed an episode of ‘Scandal’ and everyone was like, ‘It’s your first television show, we shoot really fast. Just hang on.’ I was like ‘Oh my gosh.’ But then I was finishing my days a half an hour early. It’s just indie. Indie shooting is the same as TV shooting. So I just applied that to ‘Selma.'”

The First Black Female Best Director Nominee?

King asked her if the idea fazed her at all, or if she had even thought about the possibility that she would be named the first black woman to receive a Best Director nomination. “I don’t know if this is the politically correct answer but…I’ll believe it when I see it. It’s just so outside of the realm of anything I can really comprehend for myself. It’s so lovely that something that I made, as someone who has been making films for five years only, for that to even be talked about. It feels like being on the list is the prize.”

There’s Still A Long Way To Go

As if by kismet, during the audience Q&A, a man stood to give DuVernay a note about something he disliked about the film. He brought up the importance of one of Dr. King’s speeches, and suggested that she shouldn’t have cut away from him during the dialogue. “I know a lot of it was exactly the words he spoke,” he said. DuVernay thankfully took the opportunity to correct him. “Thank you for the note sir. Actually none of the words you heard were Dr. King’s own words. I wrote all of them,” she said, which prompted a gasp from the audience. “We did not have the permission of the estate to use the speeches. We made this film independently, we were not sanctioned by anyone. So I’m glad you thought that they were so good!” The man then replied, “Then you’re even better than I thought!”

READ MORE: Ava DuVernay Explains What Makes ‘Selma’ Different From Other Civil Rights Movies

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Casey Cipriani

I’d use the term badass to describe a person of any color, gender, religion, etc. as long as we believe them to be badass. We’ve also used the term to describe a number of other people here on IW. Ava is a badass and thanked me for this post, so I’m guessing she’s fine with it..

Kate E

I’m really grateful for the article and the additional highlight for DuVernay, but I have to agree with YKK that I’m just not sure why the word "badass" was chosen. Her responses were confident, but not exaggeratedly so. Justin Simien of "Dear White People" was never, to my knowledge, called "badass" in headlines, though his film is considered highly incendiary. D Gachman of Forbes called director Kathryn Bigelow "badass" right before saying how important it is to wear the right shoes. There’s gotta be a better option.


"Badass"?? really? She didn’t even say that word herself, but presumably indiewire subs think it’s appropriate to resort to hackneyed, racialised slang for whenever a black woman articulates her thoughts clearly and directly.

Kevin L. Clark

:: slow applause :: Ava will be a continued force in this industry. I am proud to have seen her go from the bottom to this lofty position. She deserves all the accolades. ||

Dawn McDaniel

This is by far one of my favorite articles about Ava DuVernay. I’d like to echo Ava’s words about the on set atmosphere, attitude and sincerity. In my short career in this industry, I’ve been an extra alongside 500 other extras; I’ve been a featured extra, a PA (on set Production Assistant), the Medical, Psychological and Technical Advisor and a Principal Actor in a speaking role that enabled me to become SAG. So, I know how on most sets there is a pecking order or hierarchy in regards to being treated with respect. I just paused in writing this comment to actually count how many sets I’ve worked on where the ones at the "bottom of the pecking order" were treated with as much SINCERE respect as those at the top and out of 27 different sets, only two treated everyone with across-the-board respect. Ava DuVernay’s Selma tops that short list of two who were wonderful to everyone. I served as her Medical and Technical Advisor on Selma and she graciously put me in the film with a speaking line and from what veterans of the industry tell me, that very seldom occurs. So, when I say what Ava did for me changed my life and showed me that I can be much more than a little nobody, blonde, Southern girl who plays and guitar and is always a 2nd, 3rd or the last option/choice. Thank you.


You’re right Victoria! I guess it’s my Star Trek obsessed brain! It’s been switched.

victoria sanders

Great article, Ava DuVernay is incredible. fyi… I think the correct usage is FAZED not PHASED.

King asked her if the idea phased her at all, or if she had even thought about the possibility that she would be named the first black woman to receive a Best Director nomination.

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