Ava DuVernay has only made five narrative features, but she’s one of the busiest women in Hollywood.
Before 2023, the California-born filmmaker’s last feature was her “A Wrinkle in Time” adaptation, released in theaters in 2018 — a five-year gap between releases that’s partially attributable to projects that sputtered in development like DC’s “New Gods” film and a Prince biopic. And yet, DuVernay has remained a constant presence during that relatively long gap, translating her numerous talents to producing and TV work. She created and directed the acclaimed Netflix miniseries “When They See Us,” about the controversial Central Park Five case. Several other TV projects followed, including OWN’s “Cherish the Day,” Netflix’s “Colin in Black and White,” and The CW’s “Naomi.” But while many of those projects have been terrific, it’s great to see the director of great films like “Middle of Nowhere” and “Selma” back on the big screen where she belongs.
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Originally a journalist and publicist, DuVernay came to filmmaking in her 30s. After short films and small documentaries, her first feature “This is the Life” — a doc about Los Angeles’ Good Life Cafe and the alt hip hop movement — released in 2008. Her narrative feature debut “I Will Follow” and its follow-up “Middle of Nowhere” established her as an acclaimed indie filmmaker, one with a specific point of view and interest in depicting Black stories. It was 2014’s “Selma,” a biopic depiction of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 voting rights marches, that propelled DuVernay to the mainstream, and she’s stayed there ever since.
Sadly, DuVernay’s talents aren’t always recognized despite the obvious quality of the films she produces. “Selma” infamously didn’t receive a Best Picture or Director nomination, and her latest project “Origin,” got snubbed and completely shut out at the 2024 Oscars. As IndieWire’s Marcus Jones writes, a Black female director has never been nominated by the Academy, making her snubs all the more disappointing.
DuVernay herself has spoken out about Black artists receiving more recognition in Hollywood, and given her status as a champion for representation both onscreen and behind camera, it’s unsurprising that many of the films she has named as all-time favorites center Black stories. In 2019, DuVernay curated a list of her favorite classic films for Turner Classic Movies’ “The Essentials” series. In addition to some mainstream favorites like “West Side Story” and “Dog Day Afternoon,” DuVernay also highlighted several more obscure films from Black filmmakers like “Losing Ground,” a semi-autobiographical feature from Kathleen Collins about the tense relationship between a professor and her artist husband. Other Black-led films on her essentials list include “Sounder,” “Claudine,” and “Daughters of the Dust,” while foreign classics like Satyajit Ray “Pather Panchali” and Gillo Pontecorvo’s “The Battle of Algiers” were also featured
With “Origin” still out in theaters, IndieWire decided to round up the films that DuVernay has named as her favorites or important references during her Essentials series. Films listed are sorted in chronological order of release date. With that said, read on for 10 of Ava DuVernay’s all-time favorite films.
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