Exclusive - Ava DuVernay Extended Interview

September 7, 2016 - Ava DuVernay 09/07/2016 Views: 1,672

Ava DuVernay explains how Oprah Winfrey convinced her to create the series "Queen Sugar" and discusses her documentary "The 13th," which focuses on life after incarceration. (7:35)

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Tonight's guest isthe creator

and executive producerof Queen Sugar on OWN.

And you don't know a damn thingabout nothin'

except wasting money.

How long you been gone? Huh?!

You ain't been gone that long.How come you don't remember

-how it's done? -Oh, and howit's done has to be your way.

Ain't that right?I have been trying to help,

but, for some reason, you havebeen blocking me at every turn.

We don't honor our fatherby sitting friends and family

outside at fancy tables.

We don't honor our fatherby having strangers

serve those grieving.

We serve comfort foodto those who need comfort,

and we do it with our own hands!

That's how a family doesa repast!


Please welcome Ava DuVernay!

-♪ -(cheering and applause)

Appreciate it.

Thank you.

-Hello.-Wow. Hello.

-They're a little... -Whata great honor to have you here.

-I am so pleased to be herewith you. -It is such an honor.

You are one of the mostamazingly talented creators

of film that I haveever come across in my life,

the way you put storiestogether, the way, I mean...

You-You've been nominated forawards. You've won many awards.

So you know this. I'm notthe first person to tell you.

Uh, but-but cominginto this world...

I mean,we-we've just seen the clip.

What are you looking forwhen you are creating a story

like this? What are you lookingfor from the actors?

What are you looking forfrom the story itself?

Well, TV's very differentthan film.

And I think I underestimatedhow different it was.

-Yeah.-It's the elongated story.

Film is a couple of hours.

Uh, television is 13 hoursin its first season,

and you're creating something

that you hope goes onfor many seasons.

So, I mean, it mustbe similar for you.

Every night, you come out hereand you try to tell a story.

-Yes. -You try to kind of givea show, and so, it's pretty...

-It's strenuous. You know,it's a lot to do. -I mean,

it's the same with us, as well.

We see some of the characterswe deal with, and we're, like...

People are like, "Are thecharacters gonna die off, or...?

"Does Trump... does Trumpjust live forever?

How does this work? We..."

-Yeah. -We're like,"We don't know. Stay tuned.

-We'll see what happens."-Right, right, right.

Cliffhangers. Cliffhangers.It's a good thing.

Cliffhangers for days.That's what it is.

-It's a good thing. -But let'stake a step back, I guess,

and talk about Queen Sugar.

This is, uh,on the Oprah Winfrey Network,

and it was Oprah who, in fact,approached you

and said, "Hey, I would like youto make this."

Uh, which I think is unfair.

I don't think Oprah should askanyone to do anything.

-Because what are you gonnasay-- no? -Exactly.

You know? Yeah. It's a little...

Oprah. Like, you who can...?

I don't know the storyof anyone who goes,

"And then I said "no" to Oprah."

-Right, right. Right, right,right. -(laughter)

-"And I was allowed to continueexisting in society." -Right.

-I, uh... -Right. Right, right,right. Right, right, right.

How did that conversationstart, and why did you say yes?

-Yeah, um, I was interestedin television. -Yeah.

-It's the golden ageof television. -It really is.

There's such great televisionright now.

There used to be a time wherefilm was the king medium

-and everyone, you know...-Mm-hmm.

If you were in TV,it was kind of, "Oh, poor thing.

They're doing TV."

I mean, now,television is badass,

so I wanted to be a part of it,and, uh... and she knew that.

And so I was talking aboutsome of the TV opportunities

that were coming my way,and she's like,

"You know I own a network,right?"

-"Yes, ma'am, I do knowyou own a network." -(laughter)

But, um, but, no, she gave methe opportunity,

kind of be there and be free.

When your friend ownsthe network,

-you get a little extra leeway.-Yes.

And so, very artist friendly.I had a ball.

You had a ball,and it looked like

you had a ball creatingthe show, as well. -Yeah.

You know, uh, Queen Sugar is a...

-It's a really gripping tale...-Mm.

...told in a beautiful way,of a family

who's had to come home, really,to take over,

you know, their father'ssugar farm.

Like, what I foundfascinating was...

You know, I read up on the show,and then I watched it.

And some peoplewere describing it as,

-"Oh, a beautiful black show,a black..." -Mm-hmm.

-And I was like, "But it's nota black show." -Mm-hmm.

-It's a show.-Mm.

And the people in the showhappen to be black.

-Right. -Do you consciouslydo that in a story,

or is thatjust something that happens

when you tell a story well?

Um, yeah, I mean, I thinkthere's a universality

in the specifics.

So, you know,I love Korean films,

I love Iranian films,I love Israeli television,

-Yeah. -I love, you know,all kinds of things that I love.

I'm sure there's somethingin South Africa

I would love if I saw it.

-Well, our parliament, yeah,definitely. -Um, yeah, yeah,

-something great.-(laughter)

That was weird.

Oh, but, uh--that was really kind of gross.

-But, um...-(laughter)

but, um, but yeah,and so I think that there's

something beautifulin the specificity,

but when you're watchingsomething so closely

at a specific point, you know,in some way it kind of morphs

into your own experience,you know,

some kind of universal themesthat we all can hold onto.

-Yes. -So yeah, you know, peoplethink I was just born with Selma

but I actuallyhad made films before then,

and all those films-- I Will Follow,

and Middle of Nowhere-- were about just stories

where black peoplewere centered.

It wasn't necessarilyabout their blackness.

-Yes.-Yeah. So...

It is funny how, like you said

the stories in their specificityspeak to something larger.

-Mm-hmm. -Becausein the show Queen Sugar,

I think one of the brothers...

-uh, is a man who has justcome out of prison, -Mm-hmm.

and he struggles, he strugglesgetting to grips with real life.

-Yeah.-And I also happen to see,

um, the documentary made, The 13th,

-Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. -whichis really speaking to that.

Just like the ideaof how America's system

unfortunatelyhas almost been created

to keep peoplefrom reintegrating with society

once they've come out of prison.

That was anotherpowerful story again.

You have so many choices,so many things to do--

why choose that story to tell?

Yeah, I mean, the issue ofincarceration and the way that

we treat, um, um, the "criminal"in this country--

who-who's the criminal,who's not, what do we regard

as a crime,what do we let pass--

is something that'salways fascinated with...

fascinated me. So in the...

in Queen Suga we have acharacter, Ralph Angel Bordelon,

this formerly incarcerated man.

And so much in it is about,uh, inviting Americans

to kind of chronicleand get to know someone

who's formerly incarcerated.And really see

how we make these folkssecond-class citizens

in this country. Can't vote,can't apply for student loans,

have to check a boxto get a job.

I mean, it's... You've paidyour "debt to society"--

um, at what pointare you free of it?

And so The 13th, which isa doc... a feature documentary

that I-I, um,created with Netflix

comes out in October,

delves into ita much more, um, a-a way

that gives youmuch more historical

and-and cultural contextfor this idea.

Not just about what happensto formerly incarcerated people

but how prisonseven have come to exist.

It's-it's a...it's a powerful story,

because one of the mostimportant things I've realized

is for a lot of peopleout there, when tackling

issues of today,they struggle, because they go,

"Yeah, but I-I don't knowwhat you mean when you say

"'the system'-- what doesthat mean? I'm not-I'm not

"the system,I don't believe that criminals

"shouldn't have a chance.I don't believe

"that black peopleare in any way hindered,

"I don't even believe in thesystem. What do you mean,

the prison population isdesigned to be more black?"

And when you watch that story

-it really comes across. -The 13th?

-Yeah. Good. -Yeah, when youwatch The 13th it...

just, the whole ideareally comes through.

What's the most important thingyou're doing

when creating a film--whether it be a documentary,

whether it be even a TV series--

what's the one thing you'retrying to do when you make it?

Gosh, what a-what a toughquestion, thanks.

This is supposed to besoftballs. Okay. Uh... -(laughs)

I don't know.

Um, I'm just trying to givea piece of myself, you know?

I don't take director for hireprojects, which just, you know--

here's a script and a checkand go make it.

Just really things that aredeeply felt. You know,

I feel like we all havea short amount of time here.

Um, but that time can be longif what you do here resonates.

Whether it's just, you know,being good to your family and

friends, whether it's creatingsomething that's remembered.

Um, so I'm just tryingto put a piece of myself in it,

whatever it is, and that's mygoal with everything I do.

-It's a goal that you'reachieving every day. -Yeah.

-Thank you so much for beinghere. -Yeah, thank you.

(cheering, applause)