Ava DuVernay on ‘Origin,’ awards season and ‘not being inside’ the room

Ava DuVernay on ‘Origin,’ awards season and ‘not being inside’ the room

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Ava DuVernay, acclaimed director of “Selma,” “13th” and, most recently, “Origin,” which opens in theaters Jan. 19, hates the word “snubbed,” she told the crowd at D.C.’s Rubell Museum on Thursday night.

“The bottom line is this: What’s gonna happen is gonna happen. What I know for sure is what happens when I walk through the Atlanta airport,” she told national arts reporter Geoff Edgers during a conversation for The Washington Post’s Style Sessions. “I’m awash in appreciation for the work,” she said, referring to all the people who approach her there to talk about her projects.

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“Origin,” DuVernay’s narrative retelling of Isabel Wilkerson’s book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” starring Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, received no nominations at the Golden Globes or the SAG awards. (The nominations for the Oscars take place on Jan. 23.) An ambitious, moving drama, it connects Trayvon Martin, the Holocaust and the Dalits (or “untouchables”) in India.

Before the Globes, DuVernay said she spoke to Ellis-Taylor over the phone. The pair decided they would get out of the house the night of the ceremony instead of “feeling a way.” So Ellis-Taylor headed to her local movie theater with a friend and handed out fliers promoting “Origin.”

“I’m gonna take action. I’m gonna do something. I’m gonna promote my film,” DuVernay recalled Ellis-Taylor’s thinking.

Someone recognized her and filmed her, and DuVernay posted it to Instagram.

“When I saw [the video], it made me very sad,” the director said. “It made me mad at myself for even being sad for not being inside a room with a bunch of people dressed up. I was upset with myself for wanting that for her.”

She echoed that sentiment in her Instagram post: “I wish she felt the recognition and praise that swirls around her peers in big studio films. I wish the world for her. All the flowers. All the gold statues. I wish so many things. But in this video, she reminds me to move from wishing to what matters. And what matters is WHY WE MADE THIS FILM and WHY WE DO THIS WORK. For people. To be in community with others.”

DuVernay financed “Origin” through philanthropy, after she and Netflix couldn’t agree on a timeline. The streamer had wanted her to start shooting in 2024; she was adamant about putting it out this year.

“I feel all we should be talking about is this election,” she said of her film.

From her independent distribution company Array to her documentary “13th,” DuVernay’s work provides a platform for underrepresented voices. But sometimes, as an artist, the vocal advocate would like the opportunity to focus the conversation on her craft.

“I certainly look at my White male counterparts in their interviews and feel envious of what they get to talk about. No one is … asking about the race of Mr. Oppenheimer and the racial politics of that film or gender issues,” she said, referring to that film’s director, Christopher Nolan.

“I love to watch those interviews with [Martin] Scorsese, I love it when he nerds out on films and references and how he’s moving the camera and all of that. I can count on maybe two hands over 10 years the interview that’s been solely focused on craft when I speak with people.”

She also discussed the perils of making movies within the studio system, such as Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time,” made for $100 million in 2018. That kind of budget meant people wanted to “know what’s happening. Every day, every minute,” said DuVernay.

“Oh, we’re making a movie together. Oh, we’re all directing the movie,” she joked.

Listen to the full conversation with Ava DuVernay here:

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