Golden Globe, Oscar and Emmy Award nominee Ava DuVernay has several projects under her belt that fill a wide range of genres. From TV shows to documentaries, historical dramas to Disney fantasy films, she’s done a lot. Even though one of her most recent films struggled in theaters, she’s still moving forward and creating new and better pieces for us to enjoy.
At the moment, DuVernay is bringing DC superhero Naomi to life for The CW, which began premiering in January. Before she got here, however, she made a lot of history in the film industry. DuVernay was the first Black woman to win the directing award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, to be nominated for the best director Golden Globe, to direct a $ 100 million movie, and also to have her film nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Take a look at everything that’s helped her make history and more, with every Ava DuVernay film, ranked.
6 A Wrinkle in Time
A Wrinkle in Time is a Disney movie that follows the young Meg on a quest for her missing father, who was a renowned astrophysicist. He had been studying the tesseract, a four-dimensional cube that he believes is a method of space travel. A trio of astral travelers reveal to Meg and her brother Charles that it actually exists, and their father had traveled through it and was trapped. If they want to see their father again and save him, they must accompany these travelers out to the far reaches of space, where darkness dwells.
Unfortunately, A Wrinkle in Time was a box office flop. It did not make its money back and received mixed reviews from critics. Many did not like how the film used CGI, and said it was riddled with numerous plot holes. However, DuVernay’s work was still praised, with people saying the film had good direction and she was great at helping tell the story they were trying to tell, even if it did not land right with the audience.
5 This is the Life
The Los Angeles alternative hip-hop movement flourished in the 1990s and is chronicled in the documentary This is the Life. At the Good Life Café in 1989, a weekly open mic night started where artists were each allowed to perform one song. Some would perform songs written beforehand, while others would freestyle. The community that built up around this night helped people improve on their music and turned into one form of the hip-hop movement as it is known today. DuVernay put a lot of effort into making the documentary perfect and telling the story just right, and it paid off as it was a roaring success, a feature directorial debut which would lead the young director toward fiction filmmaking and international success. Upon its debut, This is the Life traveled through many film festivals, including some that were invitation only, earning several audience awards. The year after it was finished, it even made a theatrical debut, reaching even more audiences.
4 I Will Follow
I Will Follow is all about coming to terms with the death of a loved one. Maye, a successful artist, had taken leave from work to take care of her ill Aunt; when she passes, Maye contemplates her relationships, her career, her past, and her future. As the movie progresses through the course of a day, she goes through a series of twelve visitors who, each in their own way, slowly help her get back on her feet in this quiet, careful film.
The film’s award-winning screenplay was lauded by many, including Roger Ebert, who wrote that the film “is an invitation to empathy.” Beyond being an emotional, intimate film, the movie is special for being one of DuVernay’s first, and after the success of This is the Life, she went on to not only direct this movie, but write and produce it as well. The story won over the hearts of many who watched it, and it helped propel her forward into the world of directing.
3 Middle of Nowhere
Middle of Nowhere is set in Compton, where Ruby, a registered nurse trying to become a doctor, is dedicating most of her time to visiting her husband Derek in prison. She’s trying to help him get paroled early but, as we find out in flashbacks, she does not really know everything that happened leading up to his arrest. She must spend the movie discovering herself as she begins to let go of everything holding her down and move on to bigger and better things.
Using a similar theme of lost loved ones and grief as her first fiction film, DuVernay also incorporated her skills as a documentarian by putting lots of research into this film to make it as accurate as she could. It paid off, as it earned more film festival awards and nominations than her previous movies combined. With a litany of awards from Sundance, the Independent Spirit Awards, and many others for DuVernay, it was clear that she was a talented director and would definitely go even more places in the future.
13th is another documentary directed by DuVernay, but an incredibly polished one which premiered on Netflix. It is titled after the 13th amendment to the United States’ Constitution, which abolished slavery in the US and ended involuntary servitude except as punishment for the conviction of a crime. The film takes a closer look at the prison system in the US and how they exploit prisoners and force them (especially people of color) to work for little to nothing.
This documentary is still widely viewed in both household and academic settings, as it brings attention to a problem that still persists and one that may have been woefully undermentioned beforehand. DuVernay was praised for how she depicted these events and focused on the facts, bringing them to light and perfectly explaining such a tough subject with excellent interviews and footage. The film won many awards for DuVernay and was nominated for several more, including an Academy Award for Best Documentary.
The historical drama film Selma centers on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches, which were led by Martin Luther King Jr. This was a big moment in the civil rights movement as they fought for the right to vote. The biographical movie follows Martin Luther King Jr.’s involvement in the marches, including his arrest, the strains it was putting on his relationship with his wife, and the difficulties the marches faced due to police opposition.
The film received critical acclaim, with many praising DuVernay’s directing. Though it did receive some criticism for a few historical inaccuracies, there’s no doubt that it’s DuVernay’s best film so far. It was nominated for two Academy Awards including best picture, and will remain an important documentation of history that needs to be remembered.
Selma has garnered acclaim and praise from critics and audiences and it’s only fitting that it’s the best film to watch on Martin Luther King Day.
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