Ava DuVernay On How Stepping Into Your Power Leaves Room For Changing Your Mind

By Vivian Nunez

On Thursday, at the 2021 Forbes Power Women’s Summit, Ava DuVernay, award-winning producer, writer and director, shared her definitions of power, creativity, and progress. 

During her conversation with Moira Forbes, Forbes’ Executive Vice President and President of ForbesWomen, DuVernay said: 

“I really define power as something that doesn’t need to be demonstrated. It’s something that you feel, it’s an inner guidance. You can feel powerful when you walk into a room knowing who you are in the situation. You can walk into a room and there could be a lot of people who have a lot more education, money and experience than you, but you are aware of that — that awareness gives you a power…that’s something that I’m learning and observing with people and it’s a marvel to watch power at work in ways that are outside of what society tells us is power. Usually it’s the thing you least expect.” 

Throughout her career as a filmmaker, DuVernay has told stories, like 13thSelma, or A Wrinkle In Time, that help upend the definitions of who is allowed to tell, consume, and embrace stories. Outwardly, her career has been celebrated as one that breaks the barriers of race and gender, but, as Forbes posed to her in conversation, DuVernay has previously mentioned that she actually views her career through the lens of age. 

“I picked up the camera pretty late for someone becoming a director,” explains DuVernay. “Usually people are going to film school and they’re picking up their first camera either in high school or in college years. I was just starting to learn about it at 32 years old. I really think the conversation is about change. Can you change your mind about who you are and what you want to do later in the game?” 

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DuVernay encouraged a change in how “success” is defined in order to leave room for creativity and changing one’s mind. 

“I think in our society and our culture, [encourage you] to find what you want to do, who you want to be and who you want to be with right now and stick with it for the rest of your life. That is success, that is you’re doing well, and I think that there needs to be some flexibility there for people to change, to learn, to grow, to evolve, and to experience new things. If there’s any kind of through line to my story, whether it be gender, race, age, whatever, it is to step out boldly and explore your desires and your instincts and see what it’s about.” 

On the topics of activism and progress within Hollywood, DuVernay underscored how standing in one’s power and embracing slow progress can be just as meaningful and everlasting. 

“The rate of progress [in Hollywood] is something that I don’t think about too much, because I understand that change is a slow process,” explains DuVernay. “The freedoms that we enjoy were hard fought generations ago, and that what we fight for now will be enjoyed by people generations from now. And that is what life is about, it is trying to make your corner of the world, your corner of your time here a little bit better. Not just for yourself, but who comes next.” 

DuVernay adds: 

“The slower, more ingrained change of behavior sometimes sticks a little bit more. I think it’s all viable. It’s all something to be discussed. We can’t lament the fact that things aren’t changing quickly and of course we would want that, but we have to learn from history and know that what we do now matters. It matters not only to us, but it reverberates even more loudly and strongly as it moves from this moment into the future moment.”

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