Monday, October 29, 2012

'Middle of Nowhere' Director Ava DuVernay and Creating Your Own Path

Ava DuVernay (left) with actress Emayatzy Corinealdi atBlogalicious.
 Photo by Jenee Darden. 


 Ava DuVernay didn't need a film school degree. She didn't need a big movie studio backing her up.  All Ava needed was Ava and drive.  It worked because this year she became the first black woman to win Best Director Award from Sundance. She won for her latest film "Middle of Nowhere." It's a passionate, well-written drama about a woman (Emayatzy Corinealdi) whose husband (Omari Hardwick) is incarcerated. While he's locked up, she starts dating a bus driver (David Oyelowo). I highly recommend you see this film. It's really good.

I was so excited when I discovered DuVernay would be speaking at the past Blogalicious conference. I enjoyed her first film "I Will Follow"starring Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Blair Underwood.   I appreciate her work because she writes beautiful, complex stories about African Americans. And I admire how when Hollywood closed the doors on her ideas of quality dramas starring black women, she made a way.




"I got over the lines about what they won’t do and the doors we can't get into and just wanted to build my own house and my own door," DuVernay told the Blogalicious crowd.

"I was told I had to pitch to studios, I had to have a lot of money and I had to do it full time…Everything I was told I had to do, I did the opposite and tried to figure it out on my own," she explained.

Big studios backing her were out. As for money, DuVernay figured out how she could make a good film on a budget.  Filming at different locations is very expensive. When DuVernay shot "I Will Follow," she stuck to one location.  DuVernay continued working as a Hollywood publicist until she was ready to take on film full time. Two days after "I Will Follow" debuted, she went back to work.


I love stories like DuVernay's. I love when people make their own way.  She wanted to create good black dramas and didn't sit around waiting for anyone to give her a green light.  And she didn't listen to the naysayers who told her she needed X, Y, Z to be successful.  Instead, she realized what would get her to the top was M-E.

"I think what make us think it's not possible, or makes us afraid is adhering to what people say we have to do," she said.

I remember when I was in journalism school and first fell in love with news radio. My major was print journalism but I was having a change of heart in my career. I told one of the professors (not my supportive radio professor) that I wanted to be on the radio. The first thing out of her mouth was, I needed to change my voice because I sounded Southern. I'm from California LOL! She was negative from the jump. No encouragement. I couldn't afford to hire a voice coach.  As I say in my "Switch It Up" speech, when someone tells me "no" I just reverse the n-o and think, "It's on!"

I finished grad school and landed a job at NPR right out of school.  I did get to report some stories on air. Not as many as I would have liked because I was a producer, but I got on air.  And this summer, within a year of launching the Mental Health and Wellness podcast at my job, I won my first journalism award.  NPR and the New America Media Awards didn't have a problem with my voice. What if I listened to that woman and didn't think my own God-given voice was enough?


Ava Duvernay and Cocoa Fly at Blogalicious in Las Vegas.


When I launched the podcast, I didn't record in a studio. All I had was my recorder and a speakerphone. Thinking back to what DuVernay said about people telling us what we need, when I initially tried to launch a podcast for CocoaFly.com I thought I needed all of this equipment, technology, etc. I drove myself up the wall and got burned out. But after winning an award for Mental Health and Wellness, I realized all I needed was Jenee and will.

I'm sure a lot of you have dreams, and may be thinking that you need X, Y, Z, A, B,C, $$$. Sometimes it takes more than a lot of money to make a dream come to life and flourish. Maybe there's a way for you start your dream without all of the bells and whistles and still be successful.  Maybe you have to carve out your own path to success.

Another so-called "setback" for DuVernay was age. She began learning about filmmaking at 34. I don't find that old, but she said many filmmakers get started in their 20's.  She didn't allow age to deter her either. 

"There's life beyond the 'laws,'" she said. "I think once I got that in my head, explored that, and found that it was real…I was able to function from a place that was kind of fearless."




Her new film "Middle of Nowhere" opened Oct 12th in limited theatres, but is coming to more cities. DuVernay could have allowed her race, gender, age or experience stop her from picking up a camera.  I'm happy she broke the rules and took a chance. I like her films. I've been longing for good black dramas ever since Showtime canceled Soul Food.

Success stories like DuVernay's give me hope about my dreams coming true. I know the idea of failure can be scary. Personally, I'd rather attempt to achieve a goal or dream than wonder, "What if I had tried to…?"   

What's stopping you from making your dreams come true?  What's helping to make your dreams a reality? 

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