This past Friday our Photo Director, Rebekah Shannon, and I were invited out by the W Hollywood to the hotel chain’s newest event in their two-year old series, What She Said. It’s a “thought leadership platform” that celebrates femininity by bringing incredible speakers to small gatherings at select W Hotels across the globe, coming soon this spring to W Dubai, W London and W Amsterdam.

The conversations investigate topics around gender equality and female empowerment and, due to their intimate nature, inspire women to harness their own voice and platform long after the nights are done. Though the series is clearly tapping into topics that we at Darling energetically support, there was one singular reason that the Rebekah and I immediately responded and that reason is a person: Ava DuVernay.

If you’re unfamiliar with who she is, in short DuVernay is a woman who took one successful, thriving career as a publicist in Hollywood and, without great announcement, backed her own desire to be a film writer, producer and director. Within three-arguably two-films and a handful of music documentaries, she had established herself.

 

That’s with no prior “camera training.” She began her film career with a documentary short, “Saturday Night Life,” in 2006, and continued on that path with music documentaries that landed on the BET channel. Just a few years later she wrote and directed her first film, “I Will Follow,” and kept on that path until in 2012 her film, “Middle of Nowhere” won 13 awards, including the prestigious Sundance Film Festival award for Best Director.

Since then her films have continued to touch the hearts and realities of the stories she is so well equipped to tell, including the recently acclaimed “Selma” and “13th.”

This March, Disney will release “A Wrinkle In Time,” a film she directed, based on the beloved children’s classic by Madeline L’Engle.

It’s my nature to research people who strike me as genuine or impactful because part of what life has taught me is that we are each full-bodied, complex individuals, and I believe due diligence is necessary even for my own heart when I begin to really admire and listen to any person.

In combing through information about Ms. DuVernay months ago, there was one piece of information that undergirded what had been a hunch — that I quite loved this woman. DuVernay founded a grassroots distribution and advocacy collective called ARRAY, and dedicated it towards amplifying films by people of color and by women.

Forget the fact that Fast Company and Fortune Magazine tout her forward mobility; this is the most important information I could find. When a leader or industry “expert” takes every bit of influence they have and leverages it to immediately multiply to the needy around them, they deserve my ear and even my respect.

At this What She Said, Natalie Warne interviewed DuVernay, in a very conversational manner, and early into the evening asked how a she takes care of herself in the midst of such rich, intensive content creation.

DuVernay’s answer was immediate: “My self care, it sounds crazy, is my work because I love it so much. It cares for me. I care for it and it cares for me.”

The entire night ran this direction, with some answers on the nose in terms of what you might imagine drives a person to shift so radically and successfully into film, and others so light and surprising, it almost felt like standing in the lawn on a hot day and the sprinklers catching you off guard. This is the eye and mind of a woman poised to call many behind and around her into action. She is whole; no perfect figureheard, but rather a hardworking, real and actual person wanting to tell stories.

This is the eye and mind of a woman poised to call many behind and around her into action.

As they discussed “A Wrinkle In Time,” DuVernay smiled in relaying the moment she decided to take the lead in directing the film. “In Selma I was having to direct actors to kill each other and riot,” she explained, “…I just needed some joy, and it was a real blessing when Disney brought this to me…It’s trying to bring a little sanity and a little light. You know, it’s easy to say, ‘be a light in the world,’ but that’s really something that we can cultivate within ourselves.”

When DuVernay talks about her good friend Oprah, conceding with a wink and a smile that the name itself sounds like a mic drop, there’s a hefty serving of joy at where some of her friendships have taken her. The glee with which DuVernay relayed wisdom and understanding from friends and other people around her really is something women should bring with them everywhere, and left me thankful to see that kind of humility still residing in someone who has truly begun to hold the light around her for years in a row, no small feat in Hollywood.

‘You know, it’s easy to say, “be a light in the world,” but that’s really something that we can cultivate within ourselves.’

Perhaps indicative of the beauty of what this director and leader is doing is best described by an story she told of herself. One time she was, as she called it, “grumpy,” and Oprah said to her, “This bad thing isn’t happening to you, it’s happening for you. Can’t you just take a second to try to figure out why?”

DuVernay is teaching us through her creative, lively, and thoughtful responses to cultural norms that impact women and people of color that it is perhaps time to perceive negative incidences as opportunities to create change in the world around us. She says with her work, “Watch this space, sure, but watch your own space. You make change. We make change.”

We’re pretty big fans over here.

Images via Chris Swoszowski, Courtesy of W Hotels Worldwide

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