Preferring to speak of “inclusion,” filmmaker Ava DuVernay cringes at the buzzword “diversity,” even though it’s a term that her friend and frequent producer, Oprah Winfrey, has used in the past when talking about the changing role of African-Americans within the entertainment industry. But has that controversial word driven a wedge in their professional or personal relationship? Not really. “We aren’t sitting around talking about diversity,” DuVernay explains, “just like we aren’t sitting around talking about being black or being women. We’re just being that.” This candid statement comes from a new interview with DuVernay and Winfrey conducted by Michael O’Connell of The Hollywood Reporter.
The two are currently working on a television adaptation of Natalie Baszile’s novel Queen Sugar for Winfrey’s OWN cable network. Their most famous collaboration, however, is 2014’s Selma, the acclaimed Martin Luther King Jr. biopic directed by DuVernay and produced in part by Winfrey. Though set a half-century in the past, Selma was deemed newly relevant in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, stemming from a series of disturbing encounters between police officers and African-American civilians across the country. Among other topics, Winfrey and DuVernay discuss their feelings toward that galvanizing movement and the general state of Hollywood in 2016.
The conversation with O’Connell is wide-ranging. DuVernay talks about directing an adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time for Disney. In taking on this assignment, she becomes the first woman of color to helm a $100 million live-action film, but that “doesn’t figure into my storytelling,” she says. “The way I tell a story is the same at $100-plus million as it was for my first movie.”
Producer Winfrey, meanwhile, is interested in using Queen Sugar and other projects “to show that black people are just like everybody else.” The Black Lives Matter movement will figure into the show, since Queen Sugar is set in the present day, but DuVernay, the show’s director and co-creator, is not interested in preaching to the converted. “I’m hoping to dismantle the public notion—for folks outside of the community—of what Black Lives Matter means,” DuVernay says. “It’s really about saying that black lives matter, that humanity is the same when you go inside people’s homes.” Both women express hope that the series will be an opportunity to showcase realistic human interaction, imbued with emotions relatable to any viewer.