Under the Circuit: Ava DuVernay

DuVernay’s ‘Selma’ snub still stings but will they ever make it up to her?


Most Known For: “Selma,” “Middle of Nowhere”

Snubbed For: “Selma”

The state of women in today’s film industry is well versed at this point. It’s pretty much the same story when it comes to the academy’s second biggest category, Best Director. In the 86 years of the Oscars, only four women have ever been nominated for Best Director, and only one has won, Kathryn Bigelow. That number should be have five, however, as Ava DuVernay was one of the most egregious examples of an Academy snub.

Before we get into that, let’s take a look at DuVernay’s career thus far. DuVernay’s film career didn’t start behind the camera, instead her early years in the film industry were spent on the publicity side. She served as a publicist, or a similar role, for films like “Scary Movie,” “The Terminal,” “Spider-Man 2” and “I, Robot.” She wouldn’t direct her first film until the documentary “This Is the Life” in 2006. She would direct her first feature film four years later with the film “I Will Follow.”

07DUVERNAY1_SPAN-articleLargeDuVernay wouldn’t hit most film pundits radars however until her second feature film, the indie hit “Middle of Nowhere.” Critics adored “Middle of Nowhere” and so did the independent film award bodies. The Gotham Awards nominated for Best Film and Best Breakthrough (Emayatzy Corinealdi), DuVernay won the directing award at Sundance, and the Indie Spirit Awards nominated the film for four awards, giving it a win for the John Cassavetes Award as the Best Film made under $500,000. However, “Middle of Nowhere” was never going to have that crossover power to reach the Oscars, but it is a wonderful showcase for DuVerany’s skills as a filmmaker and would prime her for what would come next.

That next thing just so happened to be “Selma.” Chronicling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in supports of the Voting Rights Act, DuVernay crafted a masterful film that not only captured the spirit of that particular movement, it encapsulated the U.S. in the present as it followed in the months after Ferguson. “Selma” was a powerhouse and signaled DuVernay as one of the top filmmakers in the business, female or otherwise.

cdn.indiewireYet the Oscars unfathomably missed the boat on “Selma,” only nominating it for two awards, Best Picture and Best Original Song – it won for the latter. David Oyelowo, in his second go around with DuVernay after “Middle of Nowhere,” was snubbed for his performance as Dr. King, but the omission of DuVernay from the Best Director field was foolish. As nice a film as “The Imitation Game” was, Morten Tyldum had no place in the lineup of Directors over DuVernay (in my humble opinion).

The immediate future will see DuVernay take her talents to TV, where she will direct the TV movie “For Justice,” as well as teaming up with Oprah for the TV series “Queen Sugar.” Perhaps the TV academy will be a little more favorable to her.

But the big news came last week when reports surfaced that she was in talks to direct a Marvel movie, many of which believe is either “Black Panther” or “Captain Marvel.” That would be a huge win for DuVernay to get her shot at a big budget studio film, but also a nice signal that the studio system may at least be trying to change its ways.

If Hollywood is serious about changing the status quo, however, they have to do more than just talk about it and offer nice gestures. When a filmmaker like Ava DuVernay is starring you in the face and offers a film like “Selma,” you must take notice. Last year, they didn’t. With only three films under her belt it seems pretty clear she’ll have more opportunities to impress, and the academy will have more opportunities to take notice.

What do you think?

Written by Michael Balderston

NoVA native who has returned to the Washington D.C. area after two years in L.A. My biggest annoyance since leaving L.A. is not having immediate access to indie films on their first weekend, but I'm making due. When I'm not tracking the year's Oscar players or exploring film history, I'm rooting for my Philadelphia sports teams.

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