Get us in your inbox

BAFTA 20170419
Contour by Getty Images

Ava DuVernay: 'I don’t think any change has happened in Hollywood'

The trailblazing filmmaker talks 'A Wrinkle in Time', diversity, role models and her passion for ‘The NeverEnding Story’

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Her first film was shot in 15 days. Her second in only a day or two more. Not only has ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ made Ava DuVernay the first woman of colour to direct a $100m movie, it’s probably given her time to take a lunch break too. ‘We had 80-plus days,’ she says. ‘Money buys you time.’ A fierce campaigner for racial and gender equality, she’s still happy to be following up civil rights drama ‘Selma’ and searing doc ‘13th’ with less harrowing material. ‘It was nice to go and design talking flowers instead!’

Had you read ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ as a kid?
‘It missed me. I don’t know how, because my sister read it and I was in the same bedroom! But when I read it, I was really captivated by Meg, this girl with glasses who didn’t think much of herself and who’s lonely in the world. I related to her. When Disney said they were open to making her a black girl, that took it there for me.’ 

Which kids films have influenced you?
‘I love “The NeverEnding Story”. I always wanted to fly on the big dog. Instead of a big dog, we have a big flying leaf [laughs].’

Who were the people who inspired you as a kid?
‘No one famous. My mum and my aunt, Denise, who gave me a love of movies. I grew up around these incredible working-class women in inner-city Compton. They were my superheroes.’

Are you encouraged and optimistic that Hollywood is in a time of change now?
‘I feel encouraged and optimistic, but I don’t think any change has happened. Change is systemic. One award, one big weekend at the box office doesn’t change the way the film industry has worked for 100 years. There’s light around this moment, but there’s a lot of work to do.’

‘I related to Meg, this girl with glasses who didn’t think much
of herself’

You started out in Hollywood as a publicist. Is it true that’s the job you were originally going to do on ‘Selma’?
‘I still have my “Selma” contract as a publicist. It’s funny, I was so happy to get that job, but a few years later I was directing it. Working on Michael Mann’s “Collateral” set was important for me too. It felt like a different way to make films, with people of colour – Jada Pinkett Smith and Jamie Foxx – in communities I knew, so it really got me thinking about doing it on my own. So I did.

Your Netflix doc ‘13th’ tackled racism in the US penal system. What’s been its afterlife?
‘It’s been incredible. It’s assigned in schools and it’s always showing on a big screen somewhere. It was a really tough couple of years making it. I had to look through a thousand hours of racist, violent footage. That was one of the things that pushed me towards “Wrinkle”. It was a self-care thing. “Selma” was pretty intense too.'

Oprah had a small part in ‘Selma’. She’s got a literally enormous one in this film.
‘She’s a good friend of mine. I like working with her, she’s a really strong actor. You forget that with all the other stuff going on. The other day she sold some stock and made $110m!’

What’s next for you?
‘I’m casting “Central Park Five” [a miniseries about five black teens wrongly accused of rape in 1989] in a worldwide search. We shoot this summer in New York. Is Donald Trump part of the story? He’s not portrayed by an actor, but he took out a full-page ad saying that these boys should be executed, so that has to be addressed.’

Switching topic wildly, I hear you’re a Tetris buff?
‘I love it, it relaxes me. I play it on my iPhone. Am I a pro? Well, I could take you down right now!’

'A Wrinkle in Time' is in cinemas Mar 23

A Wrinkle in Time review

    You may also like
    You may also like