Ava DuVernay offered advice on getting ahead and turning down what would probably have been the biggest paycheck of her career during a keynote discussion at the 2015 BlogHer conference in NYC this weekend.
“You gotta follow the white guys. Truly. They’ve got this thing wired,” she declared, admiring their lack of hesitation or reluctance to pursue what they want (watch the video above). “Too often, we live within their games, so why would you not study what works? Take away the bad stuff — because there’s a lot — and use the savvy, interesting stuff and figure out how they can apply. It’s a good one for the ladies.”
With moderator (and Women and Hollywood founder and editor) Melissa Silverstein, DuVernay also discussed how women and people of color have been silenced through systematic oppression — and how they must overcome that impulse to “ask” instead of “take.” “Women have been trained in our culture and society to ask for what we want instead of taking what we want,” the filmmaker said. “We’ve been really indoctrinated with this culture of permission. I think it’s true for women, and I think it’s true for people of color. It’s historic, and it’s unfortunate and has somehow become part of our DNA. But that time has passed.”
She also proposed that the key to success is diversification. “I’ve been in a lot of rooms lately,” she said, “and all these fancy people who are really killing it, no one has all her eggs in one basket.” DuVernay is following her own advice by pursuing film, TV, and virtual-reality projects. “It will be the future of storytelling,” she said of the latter. “It’s really exciting and scary, and I want to know how to do it. … I shoot my first one just to experiment with the tools in August.”
The “Selma” helmer also explained why she said no to directing Marvel’s Black Panther movie. “It was really an enlightened day in terms of the quality of journalism,” she remarked on the “leak” that she’d boarded the superhero project.
“At one point, the answer was yes because I thought there was value in putting that kind of imagery into the culture in a worldwide, huge way, in a certain way: excitement, action, fun, all those things, and yet still be focused on a black man as a hero — that would be pretty revolutionary,” she said. “These Marvel films go everywhere from Shanghai to Uganda, and nothing that I probably will make will reach that many people, so I found value in that. That’s how the conversations continued, because that’s what I was interested in. But everyone’s interested in different things.”
“For me,” she continued, “it was a process of trying to figure out, are these people I want to go to bed with? Because it’s really a marriage, and for this it would be three years. It’d be three years of not doing other things that are important to me. So it was a question of, is this important enough for me to do?”
“What my name is on means something to me — these are my children,” she stated. “This is my art. This is what will live on after I’m gone. So it’s important to me that that be true to who I was in this moment. And if there’s too much compromise, it really wasn’t going to be an Ava DuVernay film.”
DuVernay doesn’t have to compromise too much at this point in her career — and she doesn’t pitch, either, she revealed. But she’s ready to enjoy another director’s vision of the Black Panther movie. “I think it should be good when it comes out. I’ll be there, watching.”