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7 Things We Learned About Ava DuVernay From Her Extended Vulture Interview

7 Things We Learned About Ava DuVernay From Her Extended Vulture Interview

Ava DuVernay’s acclaim has been steadily rising alongside
the anticipation for her soon to be released historical drama “Selma.” She’s expected to become the first black
woman to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Director, but according to her
recent interview with Vulture, she remains grounded and apparently anxious.

The extended Vulture Interview with DuVernay exposed several
things about the filmmaker and “Selma” that were unexpected. Here are just a
few things we learned:

1. She never had filmmaking in mind

“I never had a desire to be a
filmmaker. As a child and a teenager and in college, I was not aware of black
women making films.” Still, DuVernay wanted to surround herself with movies.
After attending UCLA as an African American Studies major, she worked as a
publicist at 20th Century Fox and eventually started her own
marketing firm at 27. She remembers “thinking what a waste it
had been to be on spin 12 years as a publicist.” And yet the “skills one uses
as a publicist” served her well when moving into filmmaking, which she
discovered she had the urge to do after working as a publicist for Michael
Mann’s “Collateral.”

2. She
gave up a house for her first feature film

DuVernay tried to buy a home in the hills of
View Park and Leimert Park in L.A., but gave it up for other L.A. dreams. “Listings don’t come up in traditional sources. It’s all
like, ‘Miss Johnson is in the hospital,’ and you’ll be like, ‘Woo, her house is
coming up.’ It’s very inside, and I wasn’t inside.” Instead, she moved to
Beachwood Canyon and spent $50,000 she’d saved for a down payment on her 2010
feature debut, “I Will Follow.” “I bought a career
instead of a house.”

3. Hollywood wasn’t calling

She became the first African-American woman to
win Best Director at Sundance for “Middle of Nowhere.” But, she said the win “raised
my profile from zero to 2.2, maybe.” She was commissioned by Prada to do a
branded short starring Gabrielle Union, and was recruited by ESPN to make “Venus
Vs.about Compton native Venus Williams’ fight for gender pay
equality in professional tennis. “They were the only two. It wasn’t a clamor
from Hollywood at all,” explained DuVernay.

4. David Oyelowo is
DuVernay’s biggest advocate

Oyelowo was already signed on to “Selma” back
when Lee Daniels was attached to direct in 2010. He met a friend of a friend of
DuVernay on a flight to Vancouver and struck up a conversation. He looked at the
script for “Middle of Nowhere,” which inspired him to call up the writer. “David
takes the script from a stranger and ends up calling me. He says, ‘My name is David Oyelowo, you may not know me. But I’m an
actor. I really loved this script, and I’d love to talk to you about it.'” When
Daniels pulled out of the project, Oyelowo suggested DuVernay and said to the
producers “Look, I’ve just worked with this director who is amazing with human
stories. I felt that to portray Dr. King, you needed to humanize him.”

5. DuVernay isn’t technically credited for writing

“Selma” was not an
easy film to get made. Five different directors were attached before DuVernay came
in. Also, the original script was not the film DuVernay wanted to make. “I wasn’t interested in making a ‘Mississippi Burning’ through the eyes of a white
protagonist.” Paul Webb, a white Englishman, wrote the original script and
focused on LBJ’s political efforts to pass the Voting Rights Act. But DuVernay
insisted on doing a rewrite. “My interest was showing people on the ground in
Selma. The band of brothers and sisters who were around King. Someone standing
up against a trooper with their hands behind their back is a more sympathetic
image than someone with a rock in their hand.” Despite the major rewrite, Webb
retains credit on the script. “There was a contract in place before I was a
twinkle in anybody’s eye that Paul Webb had the prerogative to retain credit.
And that’s where we are. The film is in the world and doing what I wanted it to
do. I wish him well.”

6. She can’t stop editing

“Selma” has been giving sneak previews to audiences before the
film has even been finished. Though the film has been getting standing ovations,
DuVernay can’t help her editing eye. She explained that she would be tweaking
until her deadline (four days from now) “It’s like a sculpture that everyone
wants, but the edge is not rounded yet. ‘Just give me two seconds to get that
part done!’ That’s how I feel.”

7. Selma is coming at the right time

Though DuVernay felt
the pressure of a tight deadline, “Selma” is being released at a provocative
time. On the afternoon of a New York screening preview, Missouri governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency,
allowing him to have the National Guard intervene in anticipated protests in
reaction to the Ferguson grand-jury decision. DuVernay explained, “The current
dismantling of the Voting Rights Act and the breaking of the black body at the
hands of police, this is not new.”

Selma will be theatrically
released on December 25.

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

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