To celebrate Variety’s 115th anniversary, we went to the archives to see how some of Hollywood’s biggest stars first landed in the pages of our magazine. Read more from the archives here.
Ava DuVernay is a force of nature. She was virtually unknown six years ago but now she’s one of the most recognizable filmmakers in Hollywood. Her background in PR was certainly a help — but her talents go way beyond a sense of promotion.
Her role as a publicist was the focus of her first mention in Variety, on March 8, 2000. The story began “Ava DuVernay, former mPRm Public Relations senior exec, has gone solo with the formation of the DuVernay Agency.”
The story said the client roster at her “boutique agency” already included CBS and Columbia TriStar Television, as well as individual film projects from companies including Miramax and Trimark. The company was said to specialize in “projects with urban themes and ethnic subject matter.”
PR is not usually the training ground for a filmmaker, but DuVernay has said that those years gave her exposure to filmmakers, and provided lessons in what to do and what not to do.
Her PR work at mPRm brought her into contact with creatives and execs at Miramax, October Films, Artisan and Warner Home Video, and she was also an account exec at Bender Helper Impact. At her own company, she worked on films including “Collateral,” “Dreamgirls,” “The Terminal” and “Spy Kids.”
She was born in Long Beach, Calif., and grew up in nearby Lynwood, eventually graduating from UCLA with a double major, in English and African-American Studies.
In 2005, she directed a 12-minute film, “Saturday Night Life.” In March 2009, Variety’s Andrew Barker reviewed her documentary “This is the Life,” saying it was a “sharp, thoroughly enjoyable exploration of seminal South Los Angeles hip-hop hotspot the Good Life Cafe … the docu is clearly the product of real love, bubbling over with enthusiastic performances and an indelible sense of place.” Barker also reviewed her 2011 “I Will Follow,” saying “one senses there’s a very good film in her future.”
He didn’t have to wait long. In 2012, she became the first Black woman to win the director prize at Sundance, for “Middle of Nowhere.” She continued to gain fans with the 2014 “Selma,” which was Oscar-nominated for best picture; the powerful documentary “13th,” which won an Emmy and BAFTA award for DuVernay and her colleagues; and the landmark Netflix miniseries “When They See Us,” about the trial of the Central Park Five.
She is also a founder of the African American Film Festival Releasing Movement, which distributes independent films by people of color and women filmmakers through ARRAY.