Ava DuVernay gave one hell of a speech at the 22nd annual ELLE Women and Hollywood Awards this week.
The “Selma” director, who was honored at the event, echoed Toni Morrison’s description of racism as “a distraction to keep you from doing your work,” and observed that sexism functions the same way, forcing women to “explain their reason for being,” and to “justify our very presence.”
DuVernay was adamant that the struggle for change in Hollywood and elsewhere cannot focus solely on the bad. She encouraged attendees to think of the room they were in as a village: “One that fights for change on the outside, but one that recognizes that an equal part of that fight is keeping ourselves strong and joyous and sane in a really insane industry. Because 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.”
DuVernay, who attended the event with Lorraine Toussaint (“Orange is the New Black”), Emayatzy Corinealdi (“Hand of God”) and Niecy Nash (“Scream Queens”) — women “who were in her [films] before any studios were around” — emphasized the importance of fostering a supportive community, one that helps members “blossom because we nourish one another.”
She identified a key tactic for dealing with being a woman in the industry as “fortifying one another and being food and fuel and fire for one another.” DuVernay acknowledged the women she works alongside at AFFRM + Array, her distribution company dedicated to supporting underrepresented directors: Tilane Jones, Mercedes Cooper and Andrea Sanchez.
The former publicist shared a brief but powerful anecdote about a fellow director she met at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where she became the first black woman to ever win the Best Director award, taking home the prize for “Middle of Nowhere.” Both had small films at the festival and ended up bonding while bringing their features to international festivals.
When DuVernay later encountered him at the Spirit Awards, she told him she had “good news,” a “big movie.” She proudly reported that she’d be allotted a $20 million budget to make “Selma,” a movie about Dr. King. He also had good news to share: He got a movie, too. His upcoming project was “Jurassic World,” which would come with a $150 million budget. DuVernay emphasized that the man in question, Colin Trevorrow, is a “great guy” and “a great filmmaker,” but the point she was making was clear: Male and female directors are not on equal footing and don’t get the same opportunities. As she explained, only two of the 100 top-grossing films last year were directed by a woman: “Selma” and Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken.” DuVernay pointed out that while other women have done equal work to her, they were “left in a stagnant place.”
Read DuVernay’s speech in full over at ELLE. She touches on an action plan to make Hollywood less sexist (among her suggestions is asking for female agents and screenwriters) and her qualms with the word “diversity” (“There’s an emotional disconnect. Inclusion feels closer; belonging is even closer. Because we all belong to hilm. We all belong to television. We all belong to what this is”).