With Hollywood studios on pause during the pandemic as movie theaters grapple with financial losses from nationwide shutdowns, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay has been using her time in quarantine to empower young women to tell their own stories around the world.
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“It’s the first time in maybe 27 years that I have not been on a plane, train or automobile every month not being able to shoot," DuVernay told FOX Business during a Zoom interview from Los Angeles Wednesday.
"I was able to really think about what it is I can do and what I want to do as opposed to really fine-tuning my own stories. I found myself reaching out to other people. I started all these new projects with other women."
The powerhouse writer, director and filmmaker behind “Selma” and the OWN series “Queen Sugar” teamed up with Lenovo for its “New Realities” series, in partnership with the United Nation’s Girl Up leadership development effort, to feature 10 women leaders from countries like Mexico, Japan, India, China, Germany, France, Italy, the U.K. and the U.S. The short films, narrated by female protagonists, explore an array of social issues like racism, climate change and poverty, while using tech as a tool to promote change in their communities.
"Some of these young women didn’t even know how to work a phone before, now they’re making films. I connected that to myself. I didn’t pick up a camera until I was 30,” DuVernay, said.
The series was produced by DuVernay's distribution company Array, an independently run collective dedicated to amplifying films by women and people of color.
And in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, DuVernay's commitment to telling stories that shed light on marginalized communities and racial injustice continues to be relevant now more than ever.
Her Oscar-nominated documentary, “13th,” gives viewers an eye-opening look at the 13th Amendment and how it led to mass incarceration in the U.S. For Netflix’s miniseries “When They See Us,” DuVernay chronicled the true stories of what led to the wrongful convictions of the men known as the “Central Park Five." And her 2014 film “Selma” followed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s epic march to secure equal voting rights.
If the lack of diversity on film – and behind the cameras – wasn't already enough to motivate Hollywood studios to be more inclusive, new data on the cost of not being inclusive might be. Studios can lose up to $130 million per movie when content fails to be authentically inclusive in storytelling, according to a new study from UCLA-based Center for Scholars and Storytellers titled “Beyond Checking A Box: A Lack of Authentically Inclusive Representation Has Costs at the Box Office.”
And DuVernay says that when empathy fails, profit losses might be enough to continue moving the needle.
“This data really shows that you’re leaving money on the table, right? And the hope is that if nothing else – if not just human decency, and dignity, and what’s right, and equity on camera — will move folks to change, then an analysis of losses and profit might move people to change,” DuVernay said.
The researchers at UCLA looked at 109 films between 2016 and 2019, measuring the successes of blockbusters like Warner Bros’ “Crazy Rich Asians” and Marvel’s “Black Panther,” and estimated that a film with a $159 million budget could lose $32.2 million – or 20% of that budget – in the first weekend at the box office for lacking inclusive representation on the screen or behind it. Potential losses could even spiral to $130 million, or 82% of the budget, without non-white characters in major roles, among other metrics, the study claims.
“When more kinds of people are involved in the story, both in front of and behind the camera it attracts more kinds of people who want to engage with it."
“When more kinds of people are involved in the story, both in front of and behind the camera, it attracts more kinds of people who want to engage with it. Beyond that, though I think it also comes from people, from the audience. We set the bar, we make the trend based on what we see and support,” DuVernay said.
“And so if folks start to really support the kind of work that looks the way they want, [it] creates demand that the studios and networks want to film. I think we’re moving in a good direction, but that study is eye-opening. It was smart for them to do it that way, because it had money involved. It might get people listening who otherwise wouldn’t.”