Ava DuVernay made history on Wednesday when she became the first African American to direct a feature film in competition at the Venice Film Festival.
The groundbreaking director premiered her film Origin at the event, in which she spoke about the challenges black filmmakers face navigating international film festivals. In “Origin,” Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor plays Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson, who wrote the acclaimed nonfiction book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, in which she examines systems of oppression in the United States and abroad.
“As black filmmakers, we’re told that people who love films in other parts of the world don’t care about our stories and our films,” DuVernay said during a news conference on Wednesday diversity.
“We’re often told that you can’t play at international film festivals, nobody comes. … No people will come to the press conferences, no people will come to the P&I demonstrations. They will not be interested in selling tickets.”
The “Selma” and “When They See Us” host recalled being told, “Don’t apply for Venice.” You’re not getting in. That will not happen.”
“And this year something happened that hadn’t happened eight decades earlier: an African American woman in competition,” she said. “So that’s an open door that I trust and hope the festival stays open.”
Origins is one of a series of films from the United States being shown in Venice this year amid the Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strike. Other titles — like Luca Guadagnino’s “Challengers,” starring Zendaya, which was originally slated to open Venice — have been dropped from the festival schedule as members of the Writers Guild of America and actors’ union SAG-AFTRA continue to fight the studio giants for higher wages and Safeguards against technology in the streaming age.
In Venice, DuVernay pointed to the importance of independent filmmaking and discussed some of the downsides of working with big studios, which she says tend to “exercise control over who’s doing what.”
“I don’t think we would have had the cast that we had if it had stayed in the studio system,” DuVernay said, according to Variety.
“This cast is made up of actors who aren’t superstars in Hollywood. It’s populated by actors who work with flesh and potatoes, blood, sweat and tears and are well respected. … and together you see how they shine like stars. I think that reflects the idea of how much value we place on certain artists when companies say who is more valuable and who isn’t.”