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Hollywood's hottest female director speaks to The Voice

EMPOWERED: Ava DuVernay says she takes pride in being a role model to young girls; inset, at the premiere of Selma back in 2015

WHEN I think of inspirational women, Ava DuVernay is definitely at the top of my list. She’s the ultimate renaissance woman — a one-time MC and journalist to hotshot publicist and now a credible director, who serves as a constant reminder that it’s never too late to fulfil your dreams after picking up a camera for the first time at 32 years-old.

DuVernay grew up in Long Beach, California, and always had an eye for telling stories in one form or another. Whether rapping over 90s hip hop beats under the moniker “Eve”, or a short-lived internship at CBS News whilst exploring a career in journalism, to learning the tools of the trade first hand as a film publicist and seeing directors’ work first hand.

The Emmy award-winning director’s colourful history took a turn ten years ago after she created a documentary called This is Life about the hip hop scene at a local cafe. However, it wasn’t until she created her first feature film in 2010 - I Will Follow - that her acclaimed filmmaking journey began.

Fast forward to 2018 and the highly respected director is in the UK for the premiere of A Wrinkle In Time - a phenomenal fantasy adventure showcasing female empowerment at its best with a magical cast including Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon.

The movie, adapted from the 1962 book from revolutionary writer Madeleine L’Engle, follows the story of teenager Meg Murry and her little brother, Charles Wallace, who have been without their scientist father, Mr. Murry, for five years, ever since he discovered a new planet and used the concept known as a tesseract to travel there.

Joined by Meg's classmate Calvin O’Keefe, the teen travels through space and time accompanied by three mysterious astral travellers known as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, in a bid to find her father.

The fantasy flick is quite the departure from DuVernay’s previous works — which include the Oscar-Nominated Selma and the moving and critically acclaimed documentary 13th — something which was intentional, as she took on the much-loved book which was once considered ‘unadaptable’ by some. “It’s a very challenging book, and I enjoyed collaborating with Jennifer Lee the screenwriter who adapted it from the book to the screen.

“I took her vision of it and loved being able to work with someone who knew the book so well. I didn’t grow up with the book but to infuse her ideas with mine and combine that with something new was great. And I like thinking out of the box, doing something different, taking risks and being bold.”

The fascination surrounding DuVernay’s evolution from socio—political films to becoming the first black woman to direct a live-action film with $100 million budget also speaks to a wider discussion around female directors and the way in which they’re represented. “I think my Caucasian male counterparts are able to do all kinds of things,” she says. “They’re able to jump genres, have films that make money and don’t make money, have great reviews and don’t have great reviews and yet continue to make more movies,” says DuVernay.

“They have a lot more choices than women directors do, a lot more choices than people of colour directors do and a lot more choices than women of colour directors do, and so it’s important that we find ways to navigate through the system.”

A Wrinkle In Time explores fantasy through the female gaze — a rarity in Hollywood we’re black female directors are few and far between. However, a black Renaissance has resurged in Hollywood, with the likes of Lena Waithe (Master of None), Issa Rae (Insecure) , Dee Rees (Mudbound) plus more helping to increase the representation of black creatives behind the camera — and DuVernay takes pride in being a part of that movement and inspiring those coming up.

“I’m happy to be considered a role model for anyone who considers me that. I just wanna be someone where you can say “look at her she did, so maybe I can do.” I didn’t pick up a camera until I was 32-years-old and a lot of people get in careers and think they’re stuck in something and that they’re too old to change, or don’t have enough money to change or don’t have enough confidence change, but I didn’t have any of that — money, confidence and I was older” she recalls.

“Yet you step out, you risk, you force yourself to be brave and that’s what the film is about. It’s a girl who is depressed, isolated and angry and she has to step out in faith and be brave and find her way through life to a place that’s more loving.

“I think following your dreams is a loving thing to do and a radical thing to do because if you do it it means you really love yourself.”

A Wrinkle In Time definitely speaks to the young women that DuVernay is trying to reach. From the message of self love and light overcoming darkness, to positioning women of colour in powerful positions — the self-taught director, emphasis the importance of representation throughout the film, and is one of the key messages she would like viewers to take away from watching it.

“The film is designed for kids, ages 7-14 years old, and if there is anything I want kids to take away from it, it’s to dare to be yourself in a world where everyone is telling you to be something different.

“Can you dare to be yourself and step out and be the best you can be? And that’s the message of the movie to me. So if kids can get that I’d be happy, as we plant seeds in the minds of those who will grow up to be great adults.”

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