Oscar nominee Ava Duvernay uses 'shock and awe' in '13th' documentary

Tuesday, February 21, 2017 01:38PM
Oscar nominee Ava Duvernay deconstructs the 13th Amendment in her new documentary that tackles racism.


HOLLYWOOD, LOS ANGELES - Long before Ava Duvernay earned an Oscar nomination for directing "Selma," and even before she was making movies at all, she was a Los Angeles publicist who championed small budget films with big dreams.

Duvernay now has any number of projects in the fire, including directing a film based on the popular book, "A Wrinkle in Time."

Come Feb. 26, she will once again walk the red carpet at the Oscars as a nominee, this time for the documentary, "13th."

"I wanted people to really think and I use a shock and awe tactic," Duvernay explained. "I mean, really, I'm throwing it all at you in 100 minutes."

In "13th," Duvernay uses the 13th Amendment, the abolition of slavery, except as punishment for a crime to take an in-depth look at America's prison system.

The U.S. represents 5 percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of the world's "prison" population, according to the film. In 1970, there were 200,000 people incarcerated in America. That number is now more than 2 million.

As writer and director, Duvernay conducted all 46 interviews seen in the movie.

"This was just our way in, to bring you in, really, 150 years of oppression, prejudice (and) racism. All the ways that we don't see each other, that we don't help each other, that we don't treat each other as human beings and what that amounts to," said Duvernay. "It amounts to this current moment."

Since she was a child, Duvernay has loved the Oscars and the film industry she would eventually enter.

"My aunt, Denise Sexton, loved movies and took her little niece to stand outside on the Saturday before the Oscars to watch the stars go in during their rehearsal," Duvernay recalled. "I saw all kinds of great people."

Those great people included the late Roger Ebert, who championed her early work. Duvernay called him a "huge influence" on her career.

"To learn as a little girl growing up in Compton that you could have conversations around film, that there were ideas that were embedded in the films that went beyond just entertainment, that they can inform you and nourish you and you can feel them kind of in your bloodstream, that they were nutrients in a way, was opening up of a whole new world," said Duvernay. "I'll always be grateful to him for that."

Don't miss the 89th Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. ET| 4 p.m. PT LIVE on ABC. Red carpet coverage begins at 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT with "On The Red Carpet At The Oscars." Check your local listings.
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