Ava DuVernay Says MLK Biopic Delayed Because Studios ‘Aren’t Lining Up’ To Produce Films With Black Protagonists

Ava DuVernay

According to Ava DuVernay, director of last year’s Oscar-nominated Martin Luther King, Jr., biopic Selma, film studios have little interest in African-American stories. That was the reason it took so long for the story of the legendary civil rights leader to hit the big screen. DuVernay made the statements during a Q&A that followed her keynote address at SXSW.

“Obviously the studios aren’t lining up to make films about black protagonists. Or about freedom and dignity as it pertains to black people and people of color being the drivers of their own lives.”

DuVernay also encouraged diverse filmmakers to “go do the work.”

DuVernay was the seventh director tapped to bring the King story to life. She is a former publicist whose filmmaker resume features mainly independent work. The last year has increased her profile significantly, particularly through Selma, which led to her having dinner with the Obamas and becoming close friends with Oprah Winfrey.

She is currently at work on a new project for Winfrey’s channel, OWN, based on Natalie Baszile’s novel Sugar Queen. During her speech at SXSW, DuVernay was blunt about how working on Selma has changed her life.

“I’ve had the f—ing most awesome year. I can’t even describe it.”

The rising star in the movie world said winning awards is not what making films is all about. Selma’s exclusion from many of the major Oscar categories was controversial. DuVernay herself was not nominated for directing, although Selma was nominated for best picture.

For DuVernay, making this particular movie was personal.

“Something happened as I started Selma that excluded any thoughts of the box office or awards or any of that. My father is from Lowndes County Alabama. I looked at him, I looked at John Lewis, I looked into the face of Emilia Boynton on a bridge that’s still to this day named after the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in the area, and I had no thought about any of that other crap that motivated me to make films.”

During her years as an independent filmmaker, DuVernay said she was focused on box office, accolades, and festival recognition. She claims this hurt her personally and professionally because she lacked balance.

“I came to realize that the dreams were too small, if your dream only includes you: it’s too small. It may take your attention, but you’re not really winning. You may achieve it but you’re not growing from it.”

[Ava DuVernay image courtesy of Getty]