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Ava DuVernay shares life lessons at NEW Forum

Friday, July 29, 2016  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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 "Selma" director Ava DuVernay shared her thoughts on diversity, inclusion and leaving a legacy at the NEW Executive Leaders Forum, July 28, 2016. 

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, CALIFORNIA -- “Diversity and inclusion should be a way of life. We won’t get there this generation, but we can lay the groundwork for the next,” critically acclaimed film director, writer and producer Ava DuVernay told 300 invited senior industry leaders at the NEW Executive Leaders Forum, July 28, 2016 at Terranea Resort.

DuVernay, the director of Oscar-nominated “Selma,” shared her experiences during her rise to the top at during a conversation with NEW Forum moderator Tara Jaye Frank, corporate culture advisor for Hallmark Cards Inc.

On her talent for storytelling

“My first storytelling was playing with Barbies – my sisters and I would have epic, full day, very intricate, all-over-the-house stories,” DuVernay said, noting her parents always encouraged her to explore her creativity.

On women knowing their value

“It’s about understanding what I bring to the table,” she said, “and knowing if I’m not happy, I can move. My work and storytelling is benefitting from that.”

On having an inner critic

“Filmmakers have actual critics – those are good enough. Artists who work in a creative space probably learn to deal with [their inner critic] in a way that’s different from those whose work isn’t constantly criticized by the public and written about and talked about by professional critics. That’s helped me – for every person who doesn’t like what I do there is someone who does.”

On negative reactions to what she does

“We shouldn’t center ourselves in someone else’s [negative] story,” DuVernay said. “It’s not our story. We see that in politics now. When [a politician] says something negative, people tend to center themselves in that story.”

On diversity in the workplace

“The idea of representation is very provocative, which is unfortunate,” the filmmaker said. “If you have the opportunity to have a person who is different than you in the room and you don’t take it – shame on you.” In Hollywood, “women and people of color filmmakers have stood in the gap between what the industry wants and what the audience doesn’t even know it’s missing because they’ve never seen it.”

On making “Queen Sugar” (debuting Sept. 6 on OWN)

“People of color want to see ourselves [portrayed in the media] every way,” she says. “We want to watch “Empire,” but also want to see regular people cooking in the kitchen.”

On leaving a legacy

“I feel I have a limited window in the [filmmaking] industry,” DuVernay says. “I can’t point to one woman who has a sustained career in this space. I want to do as much in this window, while I have the light on me, as possible. I want it to emotionally resonate. This is my legacy, this is what I want to leave."

On asking for what she wants

“I don’t feel a ‘No’ is a 'No.' I feel it means the person did not go further or they are not flexible. I rarely say 'No' myself – because I feel it’s a reflection on me. When someone else says 'No' I feel it is a reflection on them. What’s wrong with you that you would say that?”

DuVernay’s next film will be a “A Wrinkle in Time,” based on the children’s book, for Disney Studios.

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