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Why Director Ava Duvernay Isn’t On Social Media

Being the oldest of five kids, I’ve got real big-sister energy. I’m protective and want to take care of people. But I also know when I have to take charge, what it means to be a leader. It shapes me as a director. To lead well, you have to care.

I was a happy young black girl growing up in Compton, California. I loved my neighbourhood, community, my all-girls Catholic high school. I know so many folks who had hard paths in their early years. I’m grateful to have had a different experience.

When I was 18, while a student, the Chicago Bulls – led by Michael Jordan – became basketball champions. A group of us heard rumours of an afterparty and drove there, but nobody could get in. I grabbed a girlfriend and ran to the back door. We snuck in through the kitchen, grabbed a glass each, and partied with the team all night long.

My house is always quiet. There is no music playing, no TV blaring. I’m around people all day, whether talking on-set or in calls or meetings. When I come home, I like total silence – to restore.

I have an autoimmune disease called lupus. I’ve been in remission for 27 years, but suffered when I was younger. There were times I couldn’t help thinking: is this what I’ll die of? Family got me through it. Luckily, at 51, I’m still here.

My aunt Denise, a nurse, gave me my love of film. Each week we took the bus into the city to watch a movie – there were no cinemas in our community. She gave me a whole new language, and a way of seeing the world through a different lens. Whatever I’ve done is thanks to her.

People like me in America don’t make films. I’m entirely self-taught. Family didn’t open doors for me. I worked as a film publicist, and was often on set and around directors. It made me think: I can do what they’re doing. So I tried it, aged 32.

I want to make films that have an impact, to reframe ideas and change minds, to teach and challenge. To spend two years of my life on a film that doesn’t say anything doesn’t appeal to me. I’m drawn to stories that have value beyond the nice afternoon audiences spend watching.

After a decade on Twitter I’d had every possible insult hurled my way. The most awful abuse you can think of. It stopped affecting me. I became desensitised. It’s hard to hurt me now – there’s nothing I’ve not heard. Still, I’m not on there any more. No thank you.

It’s bittersweet to so often be referred to as “the first black woman” to do things. It’s tragic that firsts are still being made at this late hour. How can I celebrate myself as the first when so many more talented, creative people came before, but weren’t allowed the opportunities?

I regret time not spent with loved ones who are no longer here. Today, it’s a constant reminder for me to carve out that space no matter what. Make that phone call. Have that dinner. Just swing by. When someone comes to mind, send that message.

Eating sunflower seeds while playing Tetris? That’s my happy place. One hand is playing, the other handles the seed cracking. It’s quite the sight, apparently.

Origin is now available in UK cinemas

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