Woman directing a movie.

"Selma" Director Ava DuVernay: An Unconventional Path to Success

"Selma" Director Ava DuVernay: An Unconventional Path to Success

On December 6th, 2021, the renowned director Ava DuVernay will be honored at the Critics Choice Association’s Celebration of Black Cinema and Television in recognition of her work within the film industry. DuVernay is behind award-winning films such as Selma and the 13th, both of which achieved critical acclaim. In 2018, she became the first African American woman to direct a film with over a 100 million dollar budget for the movie A Wrinkle in Time. However, despite all of these successes and more, DuVernay’s first time behind a camera did not come until age 32, after various career changes along the way. 

Despite what you may expect from such a successful director, DuVernay did not begin her film career while in school. She instead focused on working towards degrees in English and African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. In college, she explored broadcast journalism, eventually landing with CBS News working on the O.J. Simpson trial. This experience actually made DuVernay consider a different career path entirely, however she doesn’t regret taking the job. In an interview with Elle, DuVernay said it was “valuable to have those early experiences to learn what you don’t want.” She moved on to public relations instead, eventually creating her own company, The DuVernay Agency, in 1999. This move serves as an important reminder to all in The Women’s Network that it is okay to make career changes and stray from your original path. DuVernay took her background in journalism and shifted those skills towards her own successful public relations company. 

Developing and working at her own company gave DuVernay an entirely different experience than her time in journalism. The DuVernay Agency worked on many different film campaigns, thus DuVernay began to see what it was like behind the scenes in the film industry. This also showed DuVernay how directors such as Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood operated in their field. Inspired to turn to film, in 2006 DuVernay created her very first piece, Saturday Night Life, which chronicled her mother’s experiences as a single mother of three. In addition to her publicity job, DuVernay started to take private film classes on the side. As time went on, DuVernay’s interest in film-making widened and she added more pieces to her portfolio. 

After her first feature film debuted in 2010, DuVernay wrote and directed her breakthrough film, Middle of Nowhere, in 2012. This film launched her film career, and her name, onto the national level as it won her Best Direction at Sundance Film Festival. During this time, DuVernay still juggled her day job in public relations, a testament to her determination and passion for film. DuVernay now continues to work in film and is also a strong advocate for racial and gender inclusion within the film industry. She started her own film distribution company, ARRAY, to help promote that goal. DuVernay, through her own talent and grit, figured out what she loved and how to make a difference with it, too. 

DuVernay’s unconventional career path reminds us all that we can achieve both success and satisfaction in our professional lives. At The Women’s Network, we strive to inspire young women to keep moving forward towards their dream careers. As young women searching for the perfect job, internship, or experience, we often can put ourselves in boxes without realizing it. We may have a specific plan in mind for what we believe will be the “next right step” in our career path. With two huge career changes in her life, director DuVernay reminds us to take chances and recognize the value in all of the experiences we undertake, even if we do not see those values at the time. As DuVernay said to CNBC, “It’s about putting one step in front of another, about forward movement to where you wanna be.” 


https://rollingout.com/2021/11/14/ava-duvernay-to-receive-melvin-van-peebles-trailblazer-award/ https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/ava-duvernay https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/09/a-career-change-at-32-led-ava-duvernay-to-directing blockbusters.html