Oscar-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay has revealed that she was often discouraged from showing up at film festivals because she “wouldn’t get accepted.”
This year, DuVernay, who received an Oscar nomination for “Selma,” became the first African-American woman to compete in the 91-year history of the Venice Film Festival.
DuVernay’s film “Origin,” which explores the origins of racism in America and is based on the book “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson, premiered at the festival on Wednesday.
“For black filmmakers, we’re being told that people who love movies in other parts of the world don’t care about our stories or our movies,” DuVernay said at a news conference. “This is something we are often told: you can’t participate in international film festivals; no one will come.”
He continued, “People won’t come to the press conferences; people won’t come to the [press and industry] screenings. They won’t be interested in buying tickets. You may not even get into this festival; don’t apply. I can’t say how many times I’ve been told, ‘Don’t apply to Venice; you won’t be accepted. It won’t happen.'”
“And this year, something happened that hadn’t happened in eight decades before: an African-American woman in competition. So now that’s an open door that I trust and hope the festival will keep open.”
In 2020, Regina King became the first black woman with a film at the Venice Film Festival with her drama “One Night in Miami,” but she was not in competition. The festival has previously premiered films by black filmmakers such as Spike Lee, Ousmane Sembène, John Singleton, Isaac Julien, Antoine Fuqua, John Akomfrah, and Steve McQueen.
In 2013, McQueen’s film “12 Years a Slave” premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, where she won the Audience Award before going on to triumph at the Oscars the following year.
A 2021 study by Screen found that films directed by black directors accounted for just 1% of films in competition at film festivals in the previous three years.