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There are always a few women that come to mind when you think of the word “trailblazer” — and if Ava DuVernay isn’t already at the top of that list for you, allow us to explain why she absolutely should be. Born Aug. 24, 1972, in Long Beach, California, DuVernay didn’t have a clear path to filmmaking like many others in her childhood, but that only made her work and work ethic more powerful. Today, DuVernay is known as an award-winning director, writer, producer, film distributor, and advocate, and the story of how her career came together is possibly even more inspiring than her incredible library of work.
Within less than 15 years since her directorial debut, DuVernay has made ground-breaking films and shows like MLK biopic Selma , Central Park Five series When They See Us, indie drama Middle of Nowhere , and documentary 13th, about America’s racist prison system, to name a few. Not only have these films snagged her a few history-making nominations, but they’ve amplified under-served voices and stories throughout.
In a previous interview with Slant, when asked about her inclination to look to the past for answers and to use history for storytelling, DuVernay said this about the ethos behind her filmmaking: “A crucial element for storytelling around issues that affect the present moment is that I think we work from a place of ignorance if you don’t know the historical context of the thing that you’re talking about.”
She added, “We’re in the dark, and if you don’t know how you got here, how could you ever get out? Truly. So, for me, it just doesn’t make any sense to do anything else. That’s what I felt Selma was.”
From history-making nominations to eye-opening clap backs, there’s a lot to know about filmmaker DuVernay. Let’s look through some of the top things to know about her below.