Ava DuVernay attended the Academy’s Governors Awards on Saturday night. She is a member of the Academy, directors’ branch. Last year she challenged Michael Mann for a seat on the Board of Governors. As you know, she has been one of the most vocal crusaders for change in the industry, lobbying – and sometimes shaming – studio executives and organisations like the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences in the push for diversity and inclusion in entertainment culture. When she shows up at events like the Governors Awards, then, it’s a reminder that she fought for a seat at the table, and that her presence is a statement that she’s an advocate for progress from within while being a protestor of the status quo as an outsider.
Ava is always working. Right now, she must work harder than ever. Right now, her work is to make sure that the message behind her documentary, 13th, is not lost, not forgotten, more important now than it ever was. The 13th is about what she calls the “prison industrial complex”, how mass incarceration has become big American business, and that, too often, the victims of that business are black Americans. Have you seen it yet? It’s on Netflix. It is a vital piece of history and art and information. Ava succinctly connects slavery to mass incarceration, proving that the prison industrial complex is another tool that services the status quo. And then she shows us all the ways in which media, politicians, special interest groups, and the public have been complicit in strengthening this tool, a tool of suppression that, in her mind, was even more protected and emboldened after the events of last week, “Unless”, as she said at a screening of 13th last night, “we demand something different”. So. Ava keeps working. She keeps agitating. For her, it’s the responsibility of the artist.
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” – Toni Morrison