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Hollywood wants me to make a certain kind of movie: Ava DuVernay

Director Ava DuVernay, who headed the recent Mumbai Film Festival’s International Competition jury, talks about ‘women of colour’ in filmmaking.

Written by Alaka Sahani | Mumbai |
November 9, 2015 12:00:06 am
Mumbai film Festival, Mumbai Film Festival International Competition, MFF, Ava DuVernay, director Ava DuVernay, filmmaking, indian express Ava DuVernay

How closely have you been following Indian cinema?
I’m a big fan of Indian cinema — from masters like Satyajit Ray to contemporaries like Shekhar Kapur. I especially love the work of women filmmakers. I used to be Gurinder Chadha’s publicist for What’s Cooking and I worked a little bit on Bend it Like Beckham. I was always drawn to Deepa Mehta’s earlier work. I was introduced to Mira Nair through Mississippi Masala, we had African-American actors in it. In the US, Indian women are considered women of colour. I was familiar with these filmmakers much before I came to know about African-American women directors.

From being a successful publicist, what inspired you to be a movie director?
I always loved films. But I did not know that I could make one. When I was on the sets, meeting people like Chadha and other women of colour, I thought I can do it too. I was much older then and never been to a film school.

How did you train yourself in filmmaking?
While working on other people’s films, I followed their process. The great thing about doing so is that, you know what you want to do and what you want to avoid. It’s a great education, you learn from their mistakes. Usually, directors don’t watch other directors’ working process. Since I was a publicist, I got to do that. This became my film school.

Why did you chose to the story of 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by Martin Luther King Jr for your first feature film?
I think you can’t understand what’s happening in your present, unless you know your history. So often we witness black uprising and riots. It goes back to the days of Dr King. To fix it, we need to know the past. There is much about his life that Americans, including the Black Americans, don’t know. It’s is kept out of text books and history books. I did my bachelor’s degree in English literature and African-American history. My father is from the Selma area. So, I am familiar with this part of history.

How did you manage to get Oprah Winfrey for the project as a co-producer and actor?
Things moved once Oprah came on board. It is actor David Oyelowo, who plays Dr King in the film, who roped her in. Three of us made the film together. Oprah is a great lady — very smart, kind, creative and funny. She was involved with scripting, casting and a whole lot of other things.

From the reports in the western press about Selma and you, it seems like it’s a big deal that a black woman director made an Oscar-nominated movie.
It’s unfortunate that in 2015, over 100 years of cinema, it is projected to be such a big deal. There are not a lot of women making films in America and the number of woman of colour making films is even smaller. It is a big debate happening in America right now. Several women have got together and trying to push the number.

At a panel discussion at the Mumbai Film Festival (MFF), you said that women are allowed to make a certain kind of cinema.
Hundreds of films are made in America. Women doing a small percentage of it can’t be called a change. There were 107 directors who made last year’s top films. Only two of them are women — one is Angelina Jolie and the other is me.

After Selma, is it easier for you to get a big-budget film?
It is bit of an improvement for me. But it is not as easy as it would have been had I been a man and certainly not as easy had I been a white man. I still have not been offered money to make the movie that I want to direct next. Hollywood wants me to make a certain kind of movie that I am not interested in. For example, I am getting scripts to make historical dramas, about black leaders and movements. For my next, I am interested in the future — not a sci-fi film, but to explore where we are headed. I also want to talk about social justice.

What made you relaunch your distribution company recently?
Some of the independent films we watched at the MFF won’t make it to the theatres even if they are beautiful films. They should reach a larger number of audiences. We are trying to distribute such films made by women and people of colour. They might not make a $100 million, but they still deserve a platform. I would love to find a beautiful Indian film to distribute in America.

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