Ava DuVernay

Paramount Pictures

Movies about the African-American Civil Rights Movement are and always have been in a strange place. The events of the period are a rich vein of fantastic story potential, but it’s one that’s gone mostly untapped by the film industry. Institutional cowardice about “black” movies, which supposedly don’t do well (except that they totally do) keeps Hollywood out of the period, and it’s difficult for independent filmmakers to fill the void, since a Civil Rights film is by necessity also a period piece, and making those requires a big production budget. It’s ridiculous that it’s taken this long for a major motion picture with Martin Luther King, Jr. as a main character to come out, but it’s finally happened thanks to the marriage of some select big Hollywood money (producers Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt) and indie artists (writer/director Ava DuVernay). The fact that it’s taken so long means that there are outsized, even unfair, expectations weighing on Selma. Does the movie live up to those expectations? In some ways, yes — but in others, sadly not. The film follows Dr. King (David Oyelowo) from when he won his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 through the protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in early 1965. Despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act, many southern states enforce ridiculous restrictions on voter registration in order to prevent black people from voting (gee, sound familiar?). King and other leaders of the SCLC join with local activists in Selma to make the city the focal point of […]

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Selma Movie

With percussive echoes of Public Enemy’s “Say It Like It Really Is” filling the background, the trailer for Ava DuVernay’s Selma offers a potent history lesson and a booming figure in David Oyelowo’s Martin Luther King, Jr. His presence is powerfully immediate, embodying the preacher’s bombast as well as the quiet tones of tense moments. This is impressive work, and it should resonate a million fold after the year we’ve just had. It’s hitting theaters January 9th, but (no surprise) it’s getting an Oscar-qualifying run around Christmas time. This trailer is a hammer to the forehead, and while it’s easy to call this a breakout year for Oyelowo (from A Most Violent Year to Interstellar to now playing one of the most famous figures of American contemporary history), I also hope this film launches DuVernay into the bigger spotlight she deserves. Gird your loins, and check this out.

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oprah the butler

It’s not even July yet. Do we really have to start with Oscar stuff now? The only other people mentioning this fall’s crop of potential award-winners do so with hilarious disclaimers like “It’s never too early to semi-blindly predict the rest of the year’s critical darlings” or “It’s only June, but let’s take an ignorant stab at the Oscar nominations anyway, shall we?” Oh, how I wish such a disclaimer could have run at the top of this paragraph. But now there is news. News that does not mention any explicit Oscar-mongering, yet carries the faint swooshing noise of Oprah Winfrey, polishing her mantle in anticipation of Oscar number two (and the first one was an honorary humanitarian award, so it barely counts as it is). Selma, the Winfrey-produced, Ava DuVernay-directed, David Oyelowo-starring biopic about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has a release date: December 25, 2014, for a limited release, and then January 9, 2015, for the wide expansion. And that kind of a release schedule, or course, is what you do when you want to see your film dented and eventually destroyed under a shower of heavy awards statuettes. Last year, Dallas Buyers Club, Her and 12 Years a Slave went for the late-year, limited-then-wide release pattern. Today, all those movies can proudly proclaim “Academy Award Winner” on their various Blu-ray and DVD covers.

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AvaDuVernay

Middle of Nowhere director and Sundance favorite Ava DuVernay got one thing wrong in her keynote speech at the Film Independent Forum yesterday: that her address wouldn’t be headline-worthy. While it’s true that Netflix exec Ted Sarandos stirred the pot the day before with statements that helped his company’s bottom line, DuVernay’s views might well be more revolutionary to aspiring filmmakers. In her near-half-hour talk, DuVernay talked at length about a mental shift she underwent that seems simple, yet could have a profound impact on those attempting to break into the industry. Or people merely trying to do the damned thing. It involves casting off the coat of desperation, and you can hear about it here:

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venus vs

In 1968, Billie Jean King won the women’s singles championship at Wimbledon, but she only received £750 in prize money while the men’s singles champion won £2,000. From this moment on, King began advocating for all players to earn equal prize money at all the Grand Slam events, regardless of gender. Three out of these four major tournaments (the US Open, the French Open, and the Australian Open) agreed to this change, but Wimbledon continued to hold out, only slightly increasing the prize total for female players over the years but never making it equal to what the men were awarded. Then in 1994, a young player from South Central Los Angeles went pro and changed the sport forever. Gone were the days of women’s tennis being mainly a serve and volley game. At 6’3″, Venus Williams ushered in a new generation of female power players who competed with an intensity and drive equal to the males. This shift began to electrify the women’s game, making it just as popular as the men’s (if not more so in some years), and negated the theory that female players drew in less viewers and had fewer fans than their male counterparts, an idea some had used to justify the difference in pay.

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THR Directors Roundtable 2012

One of the highlights of the Oscar season is the series of round table discussions produced by The Hollywood Reporter, and for good reason. We spend much of the fall and winter comparing drastically different films only on the most basic of levels, who is deserving of awards and who isn’t. Any real conversation between the creators of the best movies of the year is therefore worth watching. Unfortunately, the list of the participants is not often as diverse as the films themselves. This year’s directors’ round table was made up entirely of men, as was the one last year. The same is true of this year’s writers’ panel. Meanwhile, the one real opportunity for us to hear a genuine dialog between women in cinema, the actresses’ panel, was bungled by the typical soft and silly questions that plague American actresses. As Monika Bartyzel so astutely points out in her piece over at Movies.com, it might not be intentional on the part of THR but that doesn’t make it any less problematic.

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Middle of Nowhere Movie 2012

Editor’s note: With Sundance winner Middle of Nowhere hitting limited release, here is a re-run of our LAFF review, originally published on June 21, 2012. The concept of loneliness permeates director Ava DuVernay’s sophomore effort, Middle of Nowhere, as we watch Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) struggle to move forward after her husband, Derek (Omari Hardwick), is given a eight year prison sentence. We open on Ruby and Derek during one of their weekly visitations, and the desperation to get through their situation plays all over Ruby’s face while Derek seems more hesitant to look too far into the future. Ruby is hanging on to the hope that with good behavior, Derek’s sentence will be reduced from eight years to five and she makes him repeat this mantra before she leaves. We learn that Ruby had been on track to go to medical school, but now with Derek locked up, she has decided to put it off in favor of being able to make her weekly visits (and the two hour, each way, bus ride to get there) and be home for his phone calls. It is clear that Derek does not want Ruby to put her life on hold for him, but stubborn and passionate Ruby will hear none of it. She has a plan and believes if they each keep their heads down, they will soon be together again and get their lives back on track. But can things ever go back to the way they were after eight potential […]

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Middle of Nowhere Movie 2012

In Middle of Nowhere, the forthcoming movie from writer/director Ava DuVernay, a young woman (Emayatzy Corinealdi) stalls her medical school career in order to focus on ensuring her jailed husband’s well-being. Unsurprisingly, life gets in the way and leads her toward self-exploration. DuVernay won Best Director at Sundance 2012 with the picture – a film that looks solidly like the kind of indie drama you’d find at a festival. There’s definitely an elegance to it, judging by the sweet solemnity of the trailer. Check it out yourself:

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With the Tribeca Film Festival in full swing, it’s time that Los Angeles’ own Los Angeles Film Festival pipe in with still more of its lineup, all the better to get left-coasters pumped for their own festival. Earlier this month, LAFF announced that Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love will open the festival, and that announcement is now followed by the release of the first of three of the festival’s Gala titles. Those Galas will include Benh Zeitlin‘s Beasts of the Southern Wild, the World Premiere of Lorene Scafaria‘s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and Ava DuVernay‘s Middle of Nowhere. Beasts was considered the break-out hit of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, so its appearance at another large festival is not a surprise, but it sure is a pleasant announcement for Los Angeles (the film was recently picked to play in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes). The film also made it on to our Most Anticipated Movies of the Summer list, as it will open on June 29. You can check out Kevin’s review of the film from Sundance, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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As most of you probably know, there are a bunch of people hanging around Wall Street these days. Making signs, waving them, voting to see what they do next. It’s a growing movement that’s recently been joined by Anonymous threatening to remove the New York Stock Exchange from the internet on October 10th. Normally in a situation like this, the whole world would watch as it plays out before hearing that some studio has optioned the rights to tell the story fictionally, but in this case, independent documentary filmmakers are banding together to make sure that the event is showed in its purest form. A Kickstarter campaign was started for 99% – The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film by Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites (the filmmaking team beyond the Black Metal doc Until the Light Takes Us). Other filmmakers involved include Tyler Brodie (executive producer for Another Earth and Pi), Michael Galinsky (Battle for Brooklyn), Ava DuVernay (publicist and writer/director of I Will Follow), and to illustrate how quickly this thing is moving forward, Bob Ray (the Austin-based writer/director behind Total Badass) joined while I was writing this post.

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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