In the 2013-14 broadcast network television season, women comprised only 13% of directors — a fact that makes the news that Ava DuVernay and “Empire” EP Sanaa Hamri directors of pilots on CBS and Fox, respectively, very welcome indeed.
Deadline reports that DuVernay has inked a deal to helm and executive produce the crime drama “For Justice.” The series will be a kind of continuation of bestselling author James Patterson’s debut novel, “The Thomas Berryman Number,” which focuses on a hit man hired to assassinate Nashville’s first black mayor, ultimately leading to a high-stakes manhunt. According to Deadline, the series “will [explore] the repercussions from the events in the novel in present day. It centers on an FBI agent who works in the Criminal Section of the Department of Civil Rights Division and finds herself caught between the radical family she was born into and the professional family she has chosen.” Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Productions are among the executive producers. DuVernay and Rosenthal previously worked together on “Venus Vs.,” a documentary about tennis player Venus Williams and her struggle to achieve pay equality for female tennis players.
Some historical context courtesy of Deadline: “The Department of Justice formed the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division in 1957. Starting in the 60’s, the lawyers from the department teamed up with FBI agents. They were referred to as the ‘Mississippi Burning’ teams, and were sent to the Deep South to investigate crimes involving violent interference with the liberties and rights as defined by the Constitution. These teams still exist today in the department but with a nationwide focus — in 2012 alone, 6700 different hate crimes were clocked by the FBI.”
DuVernay has announced a number of big projects in the past few weeks. She’ll be reuniting with “Selma” star David Oyelowo (who she also directed in 2012’s “Middle of Nowhere”) for a Hurricane Katrina drama, and on the TV front, she’ll be reteaming with another member of the “Selma” cast, the mighty Oprah Winfrey, for an adaptation of Natalie Baszile’s novel “Queen Sugar” to air on OWN.
All of these projects sound fascinating, but DuVernay still feels the sting of institutional discrimination. At the Berlinale, she was characteristically candid at a panel yesterday: “To be honest, I’m not getting a lot of opportunities. I’m not getting the offers of [“The Imitation Game” director] Morten Tyldum,” she revealed. Here’s hoping that DuVernay starts getting the high-profile film offers her work merits. In the meantime, DuVernay said, “I’m gonna keep telling stories — not going to wait for anyone to give me permission.”
Meanwhile, Hamri, who has previously directed episodes of “Shameless,” “Rectify,” and “Nashville”, as well as “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2,” is slated to direct the pilot of Fox’s dramedy “Studio City,” created by Krista Vernoff (“Shameless,” “Private Practice,” “Grey’s Anatomy”). Hamri has in fact already directed a teleplay by Vernoff, “I’m the Liver,” a recently aired episode of Showtime’s “Shameless.” Deadline describes “Studio City” as “a family dramedy inspired by Vernoff’s real-life experience growing up as the daughter of a drug dealer to the stars” set in the LA suburb in present day.