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15. Ava DuVernay — Telling Stories & Changing the Game

15 Fiercest Sisters of 2017

“Queen Sugar” viewers praise the lush cinematography, emotionally gripping storyline and multidimensional characters such as the Bordelon siblings, Ralph Angel, Nova and Charley, who are determined to save their father’s sugarcane farm after his death. (Photo: OWN/Array)

Ava DuVernay is only the second woman to reappear on the annual 15 Fiercest Sisters list, after First Lady Michelle Obama. What makes DuVernay stand out to her Fierce fans is not only her success, but also her willingness to share it with others.

One of her biggest moves has been pulling in a slew of women directors to join her on the set of “Queen Sugar,” a television series on OWN that has been praised for its visually arresting cinematography, multidimensional characters and emotionally gripping storyline. The series focuses on the challenges faced by the Bordelon siblings who are determined to save their father’s sugarcane farm after his death.

After adapting Natalie Baszile’s Queen Sugar novel, Duvernay directed the first few episodes, collaborating with Oprah Winfrey as executive producer. Then she started reaching out to directors whose work she’d long admired. A terrible truth that she learned along the way was that “Queen Sugar” would be the television directorial debut for too many of them — even those with stellar bonafides.

Here are some of the directors on DuVernay’s dream list, along with previous credits — and some new ones after their work on “Queen Sugar”:

  • Neema Barnette (“What’s Happening Now,” Grey’s Anatomy,” “Being Mary Jane”)
  • Kat Candler (Hellion, “12 Monkeys,” “Being Mary Jane”)
  • Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust, The Rosa Parks Story)
  • DeMane Davis (Black & White & Red All Over, Lift)
  • Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman, Angel Inside)
  • Aurora Guerrero (Mosquita y Mari)
  • Tanya Hamilton (Night Catches Us, “American Crime,” “Greenleaf”)
  • So Yong Kim (Lovesong, Treeless Mountain, “American Crime”)
  • Tina Mabry (Mississippi Damned, “Dear White People”)
  • Salli Richardson Whitfield (“Eureka”)

Up next for DuVernay is Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time. Visitors to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture can watch her short documentary August 28: A Day in the Life of a People.

She was nominated for Academy Awards for Selma and 13th Amendment. She is the first African-American woman to receive the Best Director Award at the Sundance Film Festival, winning in 2012 for her second feature film, Middle of Nowhere. Her earlier work also included an inside look at the LA hip-hop scene in the documentary This Is the Life and a feature film on loss, I Will Follow.

The California native, who worked 14 years in film public relations and marketing, is still promoting films, but in a different way through a multi-platform distribution collaborative known as AFFRM, short for the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement.

If it’s true that beauty is as beauty does, she is reaping the benefits of replicating what Shonda Rhimes did for DuVernay in allowing her to direct one of the most scandalous episodes of the hit series “Scandal.”

DuVernay had a banner year in 2017 with a long list of nominations. She took home two Emmy Awards for 13th, an NAACP Image Award for Queen Sugar and two BAFTA Awards.  — Yanick Rice Lamb