Ava DuVernay Says Not So Fast on the Gold Star, Hollywood: ‘We Sit on Top of a Broken System’

Ava DuVernay accepts the Entertainer of the Year award onstage during the 49th NAACP Image Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on Jan. 15, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif.
Photo: Maury Phillips (Getty Images for NAACP)

Ava DuVernay is super clear about how Hollywood is still a white man’s game. Although she is set to release a $100 million-budget film, A Wrinkle in Time, and Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther has been doing gangbusters at the box office, the celebrated director says not to break out the Champagne just yet.


“I’m an anomaly,” she told the audience at the 2018 What She Said speaker series. “[Black Panther’s] Ryan Coogler is an anomaly, [Moonlight’s] Barry Jenkins is an anomaly, [Mudbound’s] Dee Rees is an anomaly. When you can name us all on two hands, that’s not change.”

She did note that there has been progress in that black folks have moved from others telling black stories (e.g., The Color Purple, Glory) to us telling our own.

But she said true change comes when there’s not just one black person at the helm, but a diversity of folks all throughout the industry, including on the set.

“These are moments that are not sustainable unless there’s systemic change,” DuVernay continued. “We sit on top of a broken system. Unless there is systemic change, we’re just the sparkly stuff on top that makes people feel good.”


She also recognizes the power of culture to shift narratives, and therefore culture itself, pointing to the tide turning in the AIDS crisis through films such as Philadelphia and plays such as Rent and Angels in America. “That’s what film can do,” she said.

“The only thing that instigates change is audiences saying, ‘We don’t want that anymore. Black Panther, we want this,’” DuVernay said, but then added, “Is this gonna do anything more than Panther 2?”


Check out our interview with Ava DuVernay as she talks about being the first black woman to get a $100 million budget movie.

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Angela Helm

Ms. Bronner Helm is a Contributing Editor at The Root. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.