Ava DuVernay: True Success for Inclusive ARRAY Crew Database Will Be When It’s No Longer Needed

SXSW: The personnel database for diverse below-the-line crew is only a month old, but ARRAY founder DuVernay is already looking forward to when it becomes "obsolete."
"When They See Us"
Ava DuVernay and Jharrel Jerome shooting "When They See Us"
Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix

When filmmaker, film distributor, and Hollywood heavyweight Ava DuVernay first started working in Hollywood, she got used to typically being the only person who looked like her on set. “It seemed normal, because that’s what’s been normalized,” DuVernay said during a virtual SXSW panel on Friday morning. “I didn’t walk on thinking, ‘I’m the only one,’ but you’re aware you’re the only one. But we work in Hollywood and that’s the way it is.”

But as DuVernay began making her own films (like “Middle of Nowhere,” “Selma,” and “A Wrinkle in Time”) and producing and distributing others through her ARRAY company, she realized it didn’t have to be that way. “I thought, ‘oh, wait, there’s a choice here, it doesn’t actually have to be that way. You could actually choose all kinds of people, and people are just choosing not to do that.”

The next step for DuVernay and ARRAY: making that happen on a much bigger scale. Enter: ARRAY Crew, a personnel database for Hollywood’s below-the-line crew members is “designed to amplify women, people of color, and other underrepresented film and television professionals.” (Think of it as LinkedIn for below-the-line and craftspeople.) Just one month after launching the new initiative, DuVernay hit up SXSW’s robust conference offerings for a virtual chat with Black List founder Franklin Leonard about why she started the initiative and database, and what she hopes it will accomplish in Hollywood and beyond.

ARRAY Crew launched on February 18 (the day before the duo recorded their chat), and DuVernay and her team are already planning for some major additions to the database, from a new app to expanding its use for productions outside the U.S. But DuVernay is also clear about what she really hopes for the future of the initiative: for it to no longer be necessary to ensure that film productions offer jobs for a wide range of craftspeople.

Asked what success for the database looks like to her, the filmmaker was succinct: “The ultimate sign of success would be, in 10 years, it’s not needed. It just doesn’t need to exist.” She added, “True success would mean that it’s obsolete in a decade.”

For now, however, ARRAY Crew is filling a very necessary gap. While DuVernay said that she initially believed that the homogenized makeup of film crews was the product of “blatant, active racism,” she’s come to understand that the reasons are different, and perhaps more readily fixable.

Now, she says, she’s “come to the understanding that it’s maybe more ignorance, more lack of understanding how to do it, … there’s a lot of reasons that aren’t ‘I don’t like Black, brown people and women,’ there are a lot of other reasons. Once I got past that, I started to say, ‘oh, well, then there’s solutions for that.’ I don’t really know the solutions to change you from being a raging racist, but I do know that we can come up with solutions to get the tools for systems that are imbalanced, and that’s what ARRAY Crew is.”

DuVernay joked that when she first conceived of what would become ARRAY Crew, she imagined they’d perhaps have a nice “leather binder” to pass around to interested parties. When the database launched on February 18, DuVernay said, they already had 3,000 members, a bit too much for just a binder, pushing them to build their own propriety software. (Also of note: DuVernay said that “every major streamer and studio in town” has committed to using it.) In order to accomplish this big lift, ARRAY hired a brand-new Chief Technology Officer Dee Tuck (who hails from Microsoft) and added 20 full-time employees who are dedicated to working on it.

In order to be eligible for Crew (which is free to below the line craftspeople), interested craftspeople need to have one credit at minimum, be at least 18 years of age, and are legally able to work in the United States. To learn more about ARRAY Crew and how to join the database, head over to its official site.

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