Ava DuVernay: Netflix Has Democratized the Film Industry With Global Access

Ava DuVernay, filmmaker and founder of the Array collective, is a firm believer in the power of Netflix to send content across the world and democratize filmmaking.

Speaking about her Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-winning documentary “13th” during a BFI London Film Festival panel on Wednesday, DuVernay said, “That film has been seen in more countries than all of my previous work put together, including ‘Selma,’ distributed by Paramount, God bless them, nice people, and ‘Wrinkle in Time,’ distributed by Disney, lovely people. But it was not seen around the world, from either of those studios, and Netflix did it.”

“Don’t get me on a Netflix conversation, because it is less about Netflix and more about the democratization of the delivery of our work to people,” said the director, speaking alongside Array’s various heads of department.

When asked about the film and TV industries’ responsibility towards social justice, given the expanded conversation around racial inequality this year, DuVernay said, “I don’t think the industry has a responsibility to it at all; the industry exists to make money. It is the people who power the industry who need to hold themselves accountable for the power that they wield.

“I mean, you can change generational behavior, you can change the way we think about ourselves and other people, if you’re just thoughtful about how you make the money. If you take two seconds to make sure that more people are in the room, take a little bit longer to look for the person to fill the position that doesn’t look the same as you, or is not the same person who’s done it 90 times before,” said DuVernay. “It doesn’t take a lot to be better.”

Describing the industry status quo as “mediocre,” DuVernay said that it is “a lot of white men who are just sliding by because they have not been challenged by more people, more ideas, more points of view.”

Tilane Jones, president of Array and Array Releasing, said the pandemic has opened up the distribution system, leading to innovation in the sector. The scenario, she said, has shown the studios how important different types of work are for the industry, both financially and mentally, as the audience is largely consuming content from home.

“I think we are on the cusp of a major change, and we’re all just trying to grab it, hold on to it, and make sure that it’s moving forward, especially of distribution of all this work that is coming out during this time,” said Jones.

Sarah Bremner, president of Array Filmworks, who joined from Netflix in June, said that the company’s aim is to broaden the lens, “centering” stories that have not previously been centered, finding characters who have previously been marginalized, and making them leads across formats.

Regina Miller, executive director of Array Alliance, talked up the collective’s web and app-based network, designed to provide productions with ample people of color and women, and teased a major announcement in this regard later in the fall.

The BFI London Film Festival concludes Oct. 18.

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