Ava DuVernay made history Wednesday as the first African American woman to direct a feature in competition at the Venice Film Festival.
The trailblazing director debuted her picture “Origin” at the event, where she spoke about the challenges Black filmmakers face while navigating the international film festival circuit. “Origin” stars Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor as Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson, who wrote the acclaimed nonfiction book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” examining systems of oppression in the United States and abroad.
“For Black filmmakers, we’re told that people who love films in other parts of the world don’t care about our stories and don’t care about our films,” DuVernay said Wednesday during a news conference, according to Variety.
“This is something that we are often told: You cannot play international film festivals, no one will come. … People will not come to the press conferences, people won’t come to the P&I screenings. They will not be interested in selling tickets.”
The “Selma” and “When They See Us” helmer recalled being told, “Don’t apply to Venice. You won’t get in. It won’t happen.”
“And this year, something happened that hadn’t happened in eight decades before: an African American woman in competition,” she said. “So now that’s a door open that I trust and hope the festival will keep open.”
“Origins” is among a number of films from the United States screening at Venice this year amid the Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes. Other titles — such as Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers,” starring Zendaya, which was originally set to open Venice — have been pulled from festival lineups as members of the Writers Guild of America and the SAG-AFTRA actors’ union continue to fight the studio giants for higher pay and safeguards against technology in the streaming era.
At Venice, DuVernay touted the importance of independent filmmaking and discussed some of the drawbacks of working with major studios, which she said have a tendency to exert “control over who plays what.”
“I don’t feel like we would have had the cast that we had if it had remained in the studio system,” DuVernay said, according to Variety.
“This cast is populated with actors who are not quote-unquote superstars in Hollywood. It’s populated with meat-and-potatoes, blood, sweat and tears working actors who are very respected. … and together you see how they shine like stars. So I think it gets into this idea of the value that we place on certain artists based on corporations saying who is more valuable and who’s not.”