Ava DuVernay (of course) delivered an incredible, moving speech when she accepted her Glamour 2019 Women of the Year award at Alice Tully Hall in New York on Monday, November 11.
Niecy Nash, who starred in DuVernay’s Netflix limited series When They See Us, put it best when she presented the director with her award: “Ava DuVernay affirms you and assures you; she validates your choices as an artist. She makes each actor feel like you’re her favorite—’Wait, she likes them that much, too?’ She is indeed that gorgeous dreadlocked woman we know, in the gowns, on the red carpet, but her sweet spot is on the couch, eating Pinkberry (absolutely with toppings).”
“At the core, we are two girls straight outta Compton, trying to use our talents to be of service to the world,” Nash continued. “Through her production company, Array, Ava creates opportunities for underrepresented storytellers, like a fifty percent female production crew on her latest series, Cherish The Day. Her goal for When They See Us wasn’t, ‘Let me tell a story that will be critically acclaimed, so I can be the industry darling.’ It was, ‘Let me tell a story about the pain that people have suffered. Let me shine a light of truth.’ Now that light is shining. And because she’s smart, she made sure the series was critically acclaimed too. Because the size of that light means more people will see. I am blessed to know Ava as an artist and a friend. I’m double dipping. Normally I don’t advocate jealousy but I’m saying, if you are jealous of me, rightfully so. Because what the rest of the world sees in her art, I see in her heart.”
In her interview for Glamour‘s 2019 Women of the Year profile, DuVernay spoke about what success means to her. “I am trying to disrupt systems—systems that we in this country take as gospel. We’re born into them. We abide by their rules without interrogating what the rules are meant to do, who they’re meant to serve. And you can’t disrupt what you don’t understand,” she said. “But once you understand, perhaps you engage with these things differently, no matter who you are. Perhaps you don’t assume that, because it’s a longstanding institution, it is right and fair, and you interrogate for yourself what you’ve been taught and told, and you learn to relearn for yourself.”
DuVernay elaborated on the power of interrogating those systems on stage. Read her full speech below.
“I got into town last night and my dear friend Sarah Elizabeth Lewis invited me to hang out. You know, like you don’t have to work all the time. Hang out—what’s that? Not sure. She invited me to go see a public art installation that currently sits in Times Square. By a great artist Kehinde Wiley, called called Rumors of War, maybe you’ve seen it. It’s a bronze sculpture of massive scale that reimagines monuments usually made in the likeness of white men, many of whom had a demonstrated history of white supremacy. This be reimagining those sculptures in a likeness of a black man on a horse, valiantly riding for the future with a city united in a search for presence of excellence.
My truth is that I don’t want a chair at he table or even three or even half. I want the table to be rebuilt in my likeness.
As I was walking away from Times Square with Sarah and Kehinde and our friend Brian today a woman stopped me to tell me she loved “Queen Sugar” and all the women directors who make the show and that she’s read about us achieving in gender parity on our upcoming show Cherish The Day. She said, sorry I get emotional, she said, ‘Keep bringing the truth with you. And the truth is, you’re excellent.’ This woman on the street.
I kept thinking about her warmth and those words and that woman and her faith. ‘Keep bringing the truth with you. And the truth is you are excellent,’ and her her encouragement to me to speak those words that we really connected with. Ideas I’ve been having lately around inclusion, and my truth within that term. What does that mean? Does it mean enough? Are we taking it further? Are we interrogating with the word is?
Inclusion is about creating a seat at the table for all of us, pulling up a chair for those left out. It denotes an absence that’s being remedied. Let’s start to wonder about that. I’ve started to wonder about that. So much of our conversation as women is about the table needing the chair for us, the glass ceiling we must break, the door we are going to go through and hold open for others. I believe in all of that.
I also believe in making our own doors, disrupting all systems built in such a way that inclusion is even needed in the first place. My truth is I don’t want a chair at the table. Or even three or even half anymore. I want the table to be rebuilt. In my likeness. And in the likeness of others long forced out of the room.
Keep bringing the truth with you. And the truth is that you are excellent because once we get that thing off the table, we build the thing or decide we don’t want any takers at all. Whatever the future of this movement is, once we get there are going to be excellent. How did that happen? We spent so much time trying to get them to make the space and it will explode.
Is it for us to prove something to the folks who left us up? Let’s let the track in the first place. I ask myself the question tonight and you—what do you bring with you when you walk the door? What about the substance of me? Of us. What do we bring with us other than our presence?
Toni Morrison the great called the business of pleasing and answering and trying to get to a certain place a distraction. It keeps us from doing our work. From honing who we are. So when you walk through the door or the table or the ceiling, all the architecture, are we fully formed and substantial and excellent for ourselves?
I built Array, a Black woman owned and operated art creative where we distribute and to focus on the disruptive power of the image. We interrogate and investigate them faster and further than we cultivate a craft. Then we distribute them all from a three building campus that I bought with my Wrinkle in Time money. It’s a place where we’re never asked to put it that way. I’m talking about institution building here and we can look and that can look however we want.
It can look like the woman who is my guest tonight. Bethan Hardsison. Who redefined fashion and family at a time when those words didn’t go together.
It can look like a South African girl who survived tragedy to become not only one of our most dynamic and fearless actors but a voice for change.
It can look like a a woman who oversees a staff of 5,000 and is one of this nation’s richest self made women who gives back through her talent and tenacity.
It can look like women who predate the crisis in the headlines – but who took a stand for victims, for refugees before most of the rest of us even knew to think about the border.
It can look like a woman who creates NEW worlds through pen and page and character to show us our CURRENT world as it is with more than 60 works to get name and counting.
It can look like a young women like Yara and Greta who reshape our ideas about intelligence and innovation, about age and power.
It can look like a record breaking, history making streak of athletic lightening that set the world on fire by showing what both her body and her heart can do.
Each of these women exudes and exports their excellence, my excellence, your excellence. The excellence of those who will come after us is within oneself, only experienced when the rhythm is in perfect working order. When we aren’t striving for seats. When we build new tables, new paradigms. New institutions. Or none at all.
I’ve heard it all through a presence of excellence to build our own monument in our own likeness for ourselves and to bring the truth with us every time. Thank you very much.”
Find out more about Glamour‘s 2019 Women of the Year here.
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