What Black Directors Think of Ava DuVernay’s ‘Wrinkle in Time’ Budget Bonanza
Money talks, and in Hollywood there are few things with a louder voice, which is why many in the industry cheered Thursday’s announcement that Selma director Ava DuVernay will become the first woman of color to direct a film—Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time—with a budget over $100 million.
DuVernay is only the third woman to reach the $100-million-budget milestone, following Kathryn Bigelow, who directed the 2002 movie K-19: The Widowmaker, and Patty Jenkins, who is slated to direct the new Wonder Woman movie, which will be released in 2017.
Some women directors who started working long before DuVernay’s debut are only now getting the acclaim they deserve. Take this fall’s return to theaters of the 1991 film Daughters of the Dust—which The New York Times cited as a source of inspiration for Beyoncé’s Lemonade. The film examines the Gullah culture of the islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia, and it was the first film directed by a woman of color that went into wide theatrical release.
In an interview with TakePart, Dust director Julie Dash said she was “giddy” at the prospect of DuVernay directing a big-budget science fiction film, a genre with few films directed by minorities and even fewer directed by minority women.
“In addition to the big budget, she’s been able to break through the genre—the science fiction genre, which we’ve been trying to do for many, many years,” Dash said.
The budget of the film is seen as an indication of the faith Disney has in DuVernay’s abilities.
“This is a milestone because anytime a woman, let alone a woman of color, is able to join a club that has had a ‘no girls allowed’ sign for decades, it is a big deal,” Melissa Silverstein, founder and publisher of the Women and Hollywood blog, wrote in an email to TakePart. Silverstein noted that of the top-grossing films from the last decade, only about 4 percent have women directors, a stat she calls unacceptable.
For Dash, the recognition of DuVernay’s talent shows that the climate for minority filmmakers is improving.
“[DuVernay] is wildly creative, and she’s a director who takes her time. She pays attention to the detail, the tiny specifics of character in the story she’s working on. I think that’s why her work resonates with so many people and with other filmmakers as well,” Dash said. “Now she’ll have the opportunity to work with a budget that will allow you the time and the people and the gizmos and the gadgets and all of those wonderful things. It’s a wonderful time.”
Filmmaker Matthew A. Cherry, who met DuVernay at the 2010 Chicago premiere of her debut film, I Will Follow, shares that enthusiasm. He offered to work for her, helping with social media and spreading the word about the low-budget film, and has considered her a mentor ever since. Cherry has directed music videos for artists such as Snoop Dogg and Michelle Williams, and his latest feature film, 9 Rides, debuted at South by Southwest in March.
“Watching [I Will Follow] was the first time I had ever seen black people portrayed in a way that I thought was relatable,” Cherry said. “When I say relatable, it was the first time I saw black people in a film, the first time I thought, ‘Wow, this is something I can do.’ ”
Cherry says the $100 million milestone has the potential to have a similar impact on future minority directors.
“I think it’s inspiring for the younger generation because for me, sometimes not seeing yourself doing a job leads you to think that it’s not even a possibility,” he said. “Younger filmmakers, particularly young black girls, will see Ava and the example that she’s setting and will know that the sky’s the limit.”
For more reactions to DuVernay’s groundbreaking achievement, click here.