American Filmmaker, Film Distributor, and Activist

Ava DuVernay was born in Long Beach, California, in 1972. DuVernay is known for telling compelling, socially conscious stories that focus on the multidimensional nature of Black Americans. She is also known for her strong sense of community, which is a pillar in African tradition. DuVernay is the first Black woman to win the Dramatic Director Award at the Sundance Film Festival (2012). She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she was a double major in English Literature and African American Studies. Her studies seemingly helped set the stage for one of her most acclaimed films.

DuVernay’s historical drama Selma was nominated for the 2015 Best Picture Academy Award. She was the first African American woman to be nominated in that category. Selma is centered around the 1965 nonviolent march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The purpose of the march was to highlight injustice and help end discrimination against Black peoples’ voting rights. The story follows Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. as he led the march, which ultimately became the key event that resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (Selma is rated suitable for ages 13+ by Common Sense Media)

Making acclaimed films has become a norm for the visionary storyteller. She has also received top nominations and awards for her work in documentaries and television shows, including a primetime Emmy award, a BAFTA, a Producers Guild Award, and multiple NAACP Image Awards. Her activism has brought awareness to America’s disproportionate mass incarceration of Black people, the need for gender equality for women, and a storytelling platform for underrepresented people of color—all three have been featured at the forefront of her productions.

DuVernay founded ARRAY,  a non-profit organization that focuses on grassroots distribution for independent films, providing community support through mentorship, education, and grantmaking for filmmakers. ARRAY is committed to magnifying images of women and people of color. DuVernay’s acclaimed TV series, Queen Sugar is in its third season and has hired 35 women directors, setting an industry precedent. (Queen Sugar is rated suitable for ages 14+ by Common Sense Media)