She greets me on the phone with a cool “Hey sis.” Her voice is a calm pool of ease not offering even a hint of the tsunami brewing below. That tsunami being the demand for the director everyone wants to talk to, work with, read with, act with and interview. She’s informed me that she has a conference call directly following and then a major writing session, and then another meeting. Since becoming the first African-American woman to win the Best Director Prize at Sundance Film Festival for her second feature, Middle of Nowhere in 2012, Ava DuVernay has been on everyone’s speed dial.
Just in this past year, post her personal revolution, she has produced and directed Venus Vs, an ESPN documentary that detailed Venus Williams’s fight for equal prize money for women tennis champions; The Door, a short film for fashion house Miu Miu and tonight marks her directorial debut with the ABC hit drama, Scandal. Even before her (sure to be juicy) episode airs, the founder of the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM) is already on to the next as she rewrites and puts on her directorial hat for Selma—a feature film that focuses on Dr. Martin Luther King’s bus boycott campaign in 1965.
It’s 9:15 am and just before the frenzied waves of her crazy schedule come hard, she took a little time to talk with EBONY.com about handling it with Kerry Washington, Joe Morton, Scott Foley and the other gladiators that were her cast, even if only for a week.
EBONY: Tonight on Scandal, your episode, “Vermont Is for Lovers Too,” debuts. I know you must be aware of the show’s crazy loyal Twitter following. Does their reaction make you more nervous or excited about your episode’s premiere?
Ava DuVernay: That’s a hard question. The show really leans into its Twitter following. Even when were on the set, as we’re shooting, the department heads, the location scouts, everyone has a Twitter account. Everyone’s tweeting on the set, always! They really engage with fans in that way. I’ve been beautifully surprised by it and have been embraced by all the people online who follow the show. So it doesn’t make me nervous, I just hope people like it. I’ll be live tweeting on both the east coast and west coast show times.
EBONY: This episode is created by Shonda Rhimes, stars Kerry Washington and is directed by you—three Black women! This has to be a history-making moment in the life of episodic television. How aware were you of this groundbreaking moment when you were shooting?
When she’s sleeping with Jake, I’m like “awww.” And when she’s with Fitz, I’m like “ohhh.
AD: Yes, people are telling me this is the first time a show was created by a Black woman, starring a Black woman and directed by a Black woman on network television, but it’s only a first as far as a big three network goes. When I was shooting I was aware of that and I don’t know if it made any difference to me. It’s certainly nice, but I wouldn’t want to negate all the really wonderful Black women who have been working in this space. There’s not a lot, but people like Millicent Shelton, Felicia Henderson, Mara Brock Akil, and Gina Bythewood who’s directed an episode of Girlfriends, which was created by Mara. So I don’t know how big of a first it is, but I know it felt good to be there around Kerry and working on Shonda’s show in that role.
EBONY: That’s great! Did you have to pitch the show’s producers to get this directorial gig or did they call you?
AD: Yeah, they called me.
EBONY: Having this opportunity to direct Scandal, what was your main goal and objective? When it wrapped, what did you want to leave the set knowing you had achieved?
AD: That I had directed an episode of Scandal. You know what I mean? That I was able to deliver Shonda’s show through her. That I wasn’t doing Ava. That the shots weren’t looking like they do in my films. That people weren’t behaving differently than they behaved as I gave them direction. My job was to serve Shonda’s vision, and so that was a real different muscle for me because usually I’m creating my own worlds—it’s my crew; I cast everyone and they’re my words. As when I went in my goal was to serve her story, first serve her world. And so if can get out of this actually creating a Scandal the way it looks for them, in the way that it is written, that was a success for me. So hopefully I’ve done that.
EBONY: I know you’ve mentioned before that you have been a longtime fan of the show. Are you #TeamFitz or #TeamJake, and has working on the show made you feel more loyal to one side