31 Days of Revolutionary Women, #22: Ava DuVernay

In honor of Women’s History Month, we present 31 Days of Revolutionary Women; a series of daily essays by local authors documenting, honoring and celebrating powerful women who inspire us in South Seattle and beyond.

by Hodan Hassan

I love stories and storytelling; that means I love stories told on screen, both big and small. I have been watching TV shows and movies for a very long time. It is how I learned to perfect my English and pick up on slang. It’s long been a passion of mine.

With that said, we all know there was — and still is — an era of television and movies that have written and directed Blackness and Black people in a certain, negative light. You know the tropes: the ghetto Black best friend who chews gum with her mouth open and a has 4 kids with 4 different baby daddies; the Black men in orange jumpsuits in prison, headed to prison or in the act of committing a crime; and, the big one, where all the black characters are dead within 15 or 20 minutes of a movie. White people writing, producing and directing TV shows and movies that constantly show us that we’re not good or beautiful enough have dominated — still do — in the driver’s seat.

Enter the brilliant, talented and REVOLUTIONARY woman Ava DuVernay. If this is the first you’re hearing of her — welcome — and get ready to love her almost as much as I do. Ava is a screenwriter, director, filmmaker and distributor, and all around badass Black woman taking filmmaking to a new level.

She’s the first African-American woman to win the Best Director prize at Sundance Film Festival for her feature film Middle of Nowhere. She is also the first Black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe for her hit movie Selma. She also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature for 13th. She has received other awards and will continue to get more!

DuVernay speech
Ava DuVernay, 2013

I’ve told you about the awards she was nominated and won, I want to tell why I think she’s a revolutionary woman and where I first got introduced her work.

I was first introduced to DuVernay’s work in Queen Sugar, her  TV show on Oprah’s channel OWN.  This show is about a Black family in south Louisiana: their struggles, triumphs and their love.  It centers on three siblings who must decide what to do with the land their father left them. I watched the trailer and read reviews of the first few episodes but I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch it because I am weary of stories of Blackness on television when I don’t know who is directing, producing or writing – not “know” in the sense that I know them personally but that I know their work and can trust they will take care of and be kind to our stories.

When I found out Ava DuVernay was directing and hired other women to direct, I knew I could trust her to create compelling, full and truthful stories of Blackness and I could invest my emotions in this show. It was a spectacular first season. We got to know all the characters and their struggles. I saw myself in Nova, Charlie and Ralph Angel Bordelon. I cried with them when their hearts broke and laughed with them in their joy but, more than anything, I enjoyed having a depiction of Blackness that is not vilifying or demonizing us.

That’s what Ava DuVernay gave me. She gave me joy in the form of Queen Sugar, she gives us movies that confront what this country has made us blind to. Her recent documentary 13th about the 13th amendment that outlaws slavery except in cases of incarceration is starting up conversations all across the country about our prison system and the high rates of Black people jailed. That isn’t a conversation that is easily started but is much needed.

She’s thought provoking, she’s brilliant and she inspires. She encourages actors, writers and directors of color to follow their dreams and not to let anything stop them.  My favorite quote of Ava’s is “As a Black woman filmmaker, I feel that’s my job: visibility. And my preference within that job is Black subjectivity. Meaning I’m interested in the lives of Black folk as the subject. Not the predicate, not the tangent. [These stories] deserve to be told. Not as sociology, not as spectacle, not as a singular event that happens every so often, but regularly and purposefully as truth and as art on an ongoing basis, as do the stories of all the women you love.”

And that’s what she does with her work. She makes all Black people human and that is an invaluable experience. Ava DuVarnay is revolutionary. And I love her.

Hodan better bio pic

Hodan Hassan is community organizer, writer and actor living in Seattle, WA . She has a Political Science from the University of Washington and is now working with people of color led climate justice organization. In her lifetime she hopes to have an impact on the fight for Black and collective liberation. When she is not working, especially during the fall, she’s watching a ton of TV shows.

featured image by Mariemaye at English Wikipedia [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Inline image Ava Duvernay, director of “I Will Foll from chicagopublicmedia. The image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic