An Amazing Social Media Movement for Black Film Led by Ava DuVernay

ReBecca Theodore-Vachon By ReBecca Theodore-Vachon, May 28, 2015

rebel a thonIf you weren’t on Twitter yesterday, you missed out on an epic moment, or moments, in social media activism. Director Ava DuVernay and 43 fellow Black filmmakers participated in a 12-hour Twitter “Rebel-A-Thon” to champion Black film and raise awareness of DuVernay’s organization, The African American Film Releasing Movement (AFFRM) and it’s distribution label, Array. Directors such as Malcolm D. Lee (“The Best Man Holiday” — a Scenarios director), Justin Simien (“Dear White People”), and Gina Prince-Blythewood (“Beyond The Lights” — also a Scenarios director) interacted with film lovers, fans and aspiring filmmakers, to answer questions and dispense invaluable filmmaking advice.

DuVernay, who started out in the industry as film publicist and later segued into filmmaking, has long been a passionate advocate for more diverse images and stories on the big screen, as well as a fierce proponent of the idea that filmmakers should not wait for major movie studios to bring their visions to life. For her own first feature, “I Will Follow,” DuVernay used her life savings and a Rolodex of professional contacts for a 15-day shoot in a house in Topanga Canyon, California. Her follow-up project, “Middle of Nowhere,” garnered critical acclaim and a Best Director award at the Sundance Film Festival, making DuVernay the first African American woman to win the award. Her work caught the attention of media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who vetted her to direct “Selma” – a bold and epic retelling of Martin Luther King, Jr’s fight for the Voting Rights Act. It was her first studio project (through Paramount Pictures), which DuVernay shot in under 35 days with a $20 million budget.

“Selma” went on to be the most critically acclaimed film of 2014, although DuVernay was inexplicably shut out of the Best Director race in this year’s Oscars. The outcry from critics, journalists and filmgoers in response to this apparent exclusion brought the focus back to a lack of award recognition for both Black and female directors. In the Academy’s 87-year history, only one woman, Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”), has won the Best Director Oscar. Graciously, DuVernay, who went on record saying she had no expectation of being nominated, has chosen not to focus on awards but to rather use her newly minted fame to empower other independent filmmakers.

“Breathe, drink water, don’t smoke, sweat, endure pain read, and laugh a lot.” — director Debbie Allen

ava duvernay wiki
Ava DuVernay via

Yesterday’s Rebel-a-Thon kicked off with director Rashaad Ernesto Green, who discussed his 2012 “Gun Hill Road.” Green’s film is about a trans teen — play by Harmony Santana, who was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, making her the first openly transgender actress to be nominated for a major acting award in the U.S. — who clashes with his father (Esai Morales), newly released from prison. Of casting Santana, Green says, “It was always my intention to cast a transgender actress in the role, but it proved very difficult finding her. Harmony was a godsend!”

Debbie Allen, one of the rare female directors who has been working consistently for over three decades — primarily in television with “A Different World”, “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” among other shows — joined in the fun while on break from shooting an episode of the Starz series “Survivor’s Remorse.” When a fan asked how she was able to handle such a demanding career, Allen replied, “Breathe, drink water, don’t smoke, sweat, endure pain read, and laugh a lot.”

Ryan Coogler fielded questions about his emotionally searing film “Fruitvale Station,” and revealed that at first he didn’t want to include footage of the actual shooting of Oscar Grant that occurred in a San Francisco BART train station on New Year’s Eve of 2009, and which the film is based on. “But,” he said, “I realized it was the best way to open the film.”

This past month AFFRM has been raising funds through their Rebel membership drive, which will allow the organization to distribute even more projects by filmmakers of color. Since its inception in 2011, AFFRM has distributed eight films, including “Kinyarwanda,” “Better Mus’ Come” and “Restless City.”

The Rebel-A-Thon started trending not long after things got underway, and closed out well after 10:00 pm EST, with last tweet responses from filmmakers dream hampton (“Treasure”), Charles Murray (“Things Never Said”) and Matthew Cherry (“The Last Fall”). Thousands of people from all over the globe tweeted in and participated to support AFFRM. Never underestimate the power of social media.

ScenariosUSA is a nonprofit that uses film and writing to amplify youth voices on social justice issues.

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