Arts & Entertainment

Oscar nominee Ava DuVernay: Lack of black women directing is 'devastating'

This Feb. 4, 2017 photo shows filmmaker Ava DuVernay in Los Angeles. DuVernay's film,
This Feb. 4, 2017 photo shows filmmaker Ava DuVernay in Los Angeles. DuVernay's film, "13th," is nominated for an Oscar for best documentary feature. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
Chris Pizzello/Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
This Feb. 4, 2017 photo shows filmmaker Ava DuVernay in Los Angeles. DuVernay's film,
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 30: Jelani Cobb, Ava DuVernay, Lisa Graves, Van Jones and Khalil Gibran Muhammed pose for a selfie at the 54th New York Film Festival Opening Night Gala Presentation and "13th" World Premiere Red Carpet at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on September 30, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
This Feb. 4, 2017 photo shows filmmaker Ava DuVernay in Los Angeles. DuVernay's film,
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 22: (L-R) Ava DuVernay, Meryl Streep and Jon Stewart appear onstage during the Women In World Summit at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on April 22, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images)
Andrew Toth/Getty Images


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Sunday will mark the 89th incarnation of the Academy Awards, and the 2017 version looks a little different following the outcry encapsulated in the #oscarsowhite hashtag that blanketed last year's festivities.

Four of the filmmakers nominated for best documentary feature are African-American, including director Ava DuVernay, whose film "13th" examines the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which freed the slaves and prohibited slavery unless as punishment for a crime.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V66F3WU2CKk

KPCC's Alex Cohen, who begins hosting Morning Edition on Monday, recently talked to DuVernay on the Oscars campaign trail. Among the topics were the pressure of being among the few recognized black female filmmakers, big-budget moviemaking and what she wants to see from other media in the future.

On the perception (supported by a USC study) that women get fewer chances than men to direct:

It’s tough when you see a study that says the top 1,000 films in the last — whatever, five years I think it was — three black women made films and you're one of them, that's nothing to be proud of. It's devastating to see. But it’s good to have these hard numbers, because it allows us, I think, for me, to understand what we’re up against. I’m no longer interested in berating studios or raising my fists and kind of beating my brow about the Academy. I am more interested in helping women make their pictures. The traditional walls have collapsed.

On overseeing the shooting of a scene for "A Wrinkle in Time," where she is the first black female director to command a film with a budget of more than $100 million:

It was a huge scene: Nine cranes, water cannons, water mortars … there’s a difference. It’s supposed to look like a big, kind of catastrophic scene where this big monster is chasing the kids. The kids are running, there’s stunt doubles … I had four cameras on the action and I thought, ‘Ah. This is where I’m supposed to be.’ Those are the moments I hang on to and I put all that other crap that really doesn’t have anything to do with me … I put it to the back of the room.

To hear more of Alex's interview, click on the blue play button above. You can also hear DuVernay talk more about "13th" on KPCC's Off-Ramp, where she discussed how growing up in Compton fueled her desire to make the documentary.