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Ava DuVernay on Why Netflix Understands Artists and Diversity

For this week’s cover story on Netflix, Variety asked eight directors, actors, and comedians to tell us why they love working for the streaming giant. Here’s what Ava DuVernay, the director of the documentary “13th,” had to say.

Ava DuVernay: Netflix reached out to me with an offer that I’d never heard before. Come and make what you’d like to make. We’d like to work with you as an artist, and we’ll support you in that vision. That sounded a little too good to be true. I was attracted by the prospects of a fraction of it. What I ended up getting was so much more.

It truly is a safe, productive artist space. Helping hands is what the creative experience is like. I was able to go off and do my thing. That all comes from Ted Sarandos, because he’s created an environment where all the executives feel so confident they don’t have to hold on to everything so tightly. Their notes are very normal — not like studio notes. They are not prescriptive. I never got a note that said, “Fix this.” This is the first place I ever went to where somebody said: “Gosh, I love this. Don’t you want to do more?” I don’t have the money for that. “Oh, we’ll give you some more money.” What kind of place is this?!

For my documentary “13th,” I literally thought it was going to be on the back channels of Netflix and downloaded by some librarians. They said, “This is something special. Let’s see if the New York Film Festival will have it.” It ended up being opening night, as the first documentary ever. They were the ones that launched the Oscar campaign. They were the ones that pushed it into theaters. Their vision for the way it would reach people was greater than my own.

I find it terribly exciting, especially for someone like me, a person of color and a woman, to be able to see different ways to enter into a space where I’m able to touch large audiences. And not have to go through the same five studios and three networks and hope that they recognize what I’m doing and value it. That’s the way it was; we weren’t seeing enough inclusion. Now there are more options. Inclusion is a necessity for survival. It’s ignorance to think you can continue to operate in the same way as an industry and shut out a country that is largely made of people who are not white men. If you’re going to be holding onto that, you’re going to keep having companies that can read the tea leaves, like Netflix, come in and snatch your wig.

DuVernay’s next film, “A Wrinkle in Time,” will be released in March 2018.

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