Ava DuVernay (of course) delivered an incredible, moving speech when she accepted her Glamour 2019 Women of the Year award at Alice Tully Hall in New York on Monday, November 11.
Niecy Nash, who starred in DuVernay’s Netflix limited series When They See Us, put it best when she presented the director with her award: “Ava DuVernay affirms you and assures you; she validates your choices as an artist. She makes each actor feel like you’re her favorite—’Wait, she likes them that much, too?’ She is indeed that gorgeous dreadlocked woman we know, in the gowns, on the red carpet, but her sweet spot is on the couch, eating Pinkberry (absolutely with toppings).”
“At the core, we are two girls straight outta Compton, trying to use our talents to be of service to the world,” Nash continued. “Through her production company, Array, Ava creates opportunities for underrepresented storytellers, like a fifty percent female production crew on her latest series, Cherish The Day. Her goal for When They See Us wasn’t, ‘Let me tell a story that will be critically acclaimed, so I can be the industry darling.’ It was, ‘Let me tell a story about the pain that people have suffered. Let me shine a light of truth.’ Now that light is shining. And because she’s smart, she made sure the series was critically acclaimed too. Because the size of that light means more people will see. I am blessed to know Ava as an artist and a friend. I’m double dipping. Normally I don’t advocate jealousy but I’m saying, if you are jealous of me, rightfully so. Because what the rest of the world sees in her art, I see in her heart.”
In her interview for Glamour‘s 2019 Women of the Year profile, DuVernay spoke about what success means to her. “I am trying to disrupt systems—systems that we in this country take as gospel. We’re born into them. We abide by their rules without interrogating what the rules are meant to do, who they’re meant to serve. And you can’t disrupt what you don’t understand,” she said. “But once you understand, perhaps you engage with these things differently, no matter who you are. Perhaps you don’t assume that, because it’s a longstanding institution, it is right and fair, and you interrogate for yourself what you’ve been taught and told, and you learn to relearn for yourself.”
DuVernay elaborated on the power of interrogating those systems on stage. Read her full speech below.
“I got into town last night and my dear friend Sarah Elizabeth Lewis invited me to hang out. You know, like you don’t have to work all the time. Hang out—what’s that? Not sure. She invited me to go see a public art installation that currently sits in Times Square. By a great artist Kehinde Wiley, called called Rumors of War, maybe you’ve seen it. It’s a bronze sculpture of massive scale that reimagines monuments usually made in the likeness of white men, many of whom had a demonstrated history of white supremacy. This be reimagining those sculptures in a likeness of a black man on a horse, valiantly riding for the future with a city united in a search for presence of excellence.
As I was walking away from Times Square with Sarah and Kehinde and our friend Brian today a woman stopped me to tell me she loved “Queen Sugar” and all the women directors who make the show and that she’s read about us achieving in gender parity on our upcoming show Cherish The Day. She said, sorry I get emotional, she said, ‘Keep bringing the truth with you. And the truth is, you’re excellent.’ This woman on the street.
I kept thinking about her warmth and those words and that woman and her faith. ‘Keep bringing the truth with you. And the truth is you are excellent,’ and her her encouragement to me to speak those words that we really connected with. Ideas I’ve been having lately around inclusion, and my truth within that term. What does that mean? Does it mean enough? Are we taking it further? Are we interrogating with the word is?