This past Saturday, June 4th, filmmaker Ava DuVernay (Selma, Queen Sugar) and her partners at ARRAY (executive director Tilane Jones and marketing director Mercedes Cooper), received the annual Spirit of Independence Award at the LA Film Festival.  The Award honors those who advance the cause of independent film and champion creative freedom.

During the panel discussion moderated by Elvis Mitchell, DuVernay stressed the importance of Black directors such as Ryan Coogler (Creed, Black Panther) and Rick Famuyiwa (The Flash), who are amongst the few black directors given the opportunity to helm a big budget film ($100 mil+) funded by major studios.

“You’re starting to get into a space where we get to see something we have not seen, which are black filmmakers with a hearty amount of resources.” – Ava DuVernay

She added, “we make these projects within a system that is not built to support various voices. It’s not built to support them, to nourish them, to amplify them. When something does break through, it has to start all over again.”

DuVernay launched ARRAY in 2010 under the name African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM).  In 2015 the company re-branded itself as ARRAY and expanded its focus to release and champion films by black filmmakers from the African diaspora, as well as women and other filmmakers of color.  Since its inception in 2010, DuVernay and her team at ARRAY have committed themselves wholeheartedly to finding ways to expose films by people of color and women to audiences across the country.

“It’s not just the fact that a (black) film can do well, it’s the fact that there’s a community around it, that there’s conversation around it, that a film can push a national moment forward, can be a piece of art. All of the things that surround films of color seem to be a surprise. And, really, it’s just selective amnesia because it’s not like it hasn’t happened before.  But I think it’s part of making films within a patriarchy, which is what we do.”

DuVernay made history by becoming the first African American woman to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture (Selma), and became the first African American woman to receive the best director award at Sundance (Middle of Nowhere); however, she gave credit to filmmakers who have not received a great amount of recognition for their contributions to the film industry such as French feminist director Agnes Varda and African-American director Julie Dash.

As one of the most sought after directors in Hollywood, DuVernay recently wrapped production on the 13-episode OWN original drama, Queen Sugar, and is currently in pre-production on an adaptation of the Madeleine L’Engle book A Wrinkle in Time for Disney, which begins shooting this fall.  The film will revolve around a young girl whose government-scientist father disappears while working on a mysterious project.  DuVernay will also be directing the film adaptation of The Battle of Versailles for HBO Films.

“The urgency of black film is something at the forefront.  People that love film need to seek it out.  They need to seek out these things.  If they say it’s important to you, you need to seek it out.” – Ava DuVernay