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How Ava DuVernay Is Redefining Film And Changing TV

By Kristy Puchko | Celebrity | February 4, 2016 |

By Kristy Puchko | Celebrity | February 4, 2016 |

With her third feature Selma, director Ava DuVernay was launched firmly into the public consciousness, not only for the film’s compelling and acclaimed portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr.’s titular march for Civil Rights, but also because the director didn’t shy away from how the film’s politics connected to the modern cause Black Lives Matter.

DuVernay has developed a vocal fandom who championed her getting bigger projects, demanded her one-of-a-kind Barbie doll be mass produced, and then made it a giant success that sold out immediately. And now one of DuVernay’s most famous fans has named a new yardstick of film criticism after the dynamic and daring director.

In her round-up of Sundance, The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis proposed “the DuVernay test.” Where the Bechdel Test has long been employed as a base of discussion for how women are represented in film, Dargis’s DuVernay test could be used to discuss the representation of people of color in film. Dargis explains to pass a movie must present “African-Americans and other minorities (having) fully realized lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories.” Films that pass the newly minted test include Sundance hits The Birth of a Nation and Morris From America.

DuVernay’s on board.

But don’t call this a diversity test. DuVernay’s no fan of that buzzword. She recently told The New York Times:

“We’re hearing a lot about diversity. I hate that word so, so much…I feel [diversity] is a medicinal word that has no emotional resonance, and this is a really emotional issue. It’s emotional for artists who are women and people of color to have less value placed on our worldview…There’s a belonging problem in Hollywood. Who dictates who belongs? The very body who dictates that looks all one way.”

DuVernay prefers “inclusion” over “diversity.” And she’s using her pull to bring forward these too often ignored worldviews, promising that the entire slate of helmers for her new television series Queen Sugar will be “an all-women directorial team.” At this year’s Sundance, she talked about her history at the festival and of promoting black filmmakers and their work. And it’s from “the black independent film space” that she’s plucked the talent for her 13-episode series that will air on Oprah’s OWN Network.

“[It’s] the first television show I’ve created,” DuVernay said. “I jokingly say I’m getting my ‘Shonda’ on but I don’t even know how she juggles all those shows because this show is wearing me out —- in the best way. It’s a lot, but it’s fun. It’s like a 13 hour film.”

Kristy Puchko is checking that OWN is in her cable package.