“I very much try not to — and don’t — make it a habit of treating my actors differently than I treat the gaffer or the grip or the craft services manager or hair and makeup, because we’re all making the movie,” she says. “Because I used to be crew, and I would see the hierarchy and I always thought: I won’t do that. Because this is a grown man. I would see grips and gaffers and, you know, dolly grips pushing things around all day and being treated like s— and they would just remind me, gosh, that’s somebody’s father.”
Ava Duvernay is a writer, director, producer, and film producer. She is known for many of her works, including When They See Us, Selma, and A Wrinkle in Time, which made her the highest grossing black woman director in American Box Office history. Duvernay continues to direct and create impactful history making films that people all over the world will enjoy for decades to come.
Q: In another interview, there’s a quote where you say, “So often, when I see African‑American performances on screen, it’s in the voice of spectacle. I don’t feel like race is spectacle. Race is me. I’m a black woman. We are black people. If we move around our daily lives, it is not a spectacle. It is the norm.” Can you talk a bit about how that attitude informs your creative process and shapes these stories you choose to tell?
A: It doesn’t inform it. I am just writing. It’s not like I’m saying, “This is not going to be spectacle.” I’m just writing what’s in my mind. It’s when other people try to write what’s in my mind, as a black woman, when other people try to write my body, what I would do in this situation, how I wear my hair, what I say to men, what I say to my friends, what I say to my mother. They are not me. They are not us. And most of the time, sadly, they don’t care to really know who we are. That becomes spectacle. The way that I think of you is spectacle if I don’t know your life, don’t care to learn and just start telling stories that I deem appropriate about you. The crazy thing is that so many people — industry, journalists, moviegoers — think that’s okay. Stories that are heightened and colored by assumptions of who we are. Not informed by knowledge, or study, or research. Strictly informed by privilege. That that’s okay, that it’s celebrated, is wild to me. Unfortunately, most people writing black characters don’t take the time to gain the knowledge to get past spectacle. Now, don’t get my wrong, there are some beautiful, caring, thoughtful portrayals of black people that have been done over the years by folks who aren’t black. But it’s rare. More often, we’re seeing very frivolous, uninformed, privileged views of black women and girls. The idea of spectacle comes when our personhood is being interpreted through lenses of privilege, without a lot of thought or meaning, in my view.