When I meet Ava DuVernay, inside the bowels of the Hotel Excelsior on the Venice Lido, I’m immediately struck by her poise and sense of purpose. Dressed in a sleek black shift and perched elegantly on the plush white sofa in her suite, she gets up to greet me warmly—her handshake is firm, her smile assured, and her gaze steely. I get the distinct feeling that she knows she’s meant to be here; that everything in her career so far has led her to this moment, to this festival and to her latest film, Origin, remarkably the first release from an African American woman to compete for the Golden Lion in the showcase’s illustrious 80-year history.
By now, though, the auteur has become accustomed to breaking down barriers: in 2015, she became the first Black woman to have directed a film that received a best-picture Oscar nod with the sweeping historical epic Selma; she made the bruising Oscar-nominated documentary 13th; she became the first woman of color to helm a $100 million movie with A Wrinkle in Time; and then she dazzled audiences with her profoundly moving limited series about the Central Park Five, When They See Us, which, like so much of her previous work, ignited crucial conversations around racial injustice. Not simply content to tell radical and revolutionary stories, she’s also helped other women and people of color do the same with her Peabody Award-winning distribution company, Array, which seeks to spotlight emerging filmmakers and promote institutional change across the industry.