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Ava DuVernay’s powerful message for women dealing with rejection

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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The director addressed those who didn’t make the cut for this year’s Sundance film festival, but her words will ring true for every woman.

Few success stories are quite as successful as Ava DuVernay’s.

The 46-year-old director had a successful career in public relations before, at 32, she switched gears. This was the year she picked up a camera for the first time and toyed with the idea of becoming a filmmaker. 

Eight years later, she won the Best Director award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for Middle of Nowhere, an independent movie DuVernay wrote, produced and directed about a nurse processing her husband’s prison sentence.

Today, DuVernay is the first black woman to direct a movie with a budget in excess of $100 million (A Wrinkle in Time). She is the first black woman to direct a DC superhero movie (New Gods). She just signed a massive deal with Warner Bros studios to produce and create television content for the network, a deal that is reported to sit in the “high eight figure range”, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She has been nominated for a Golden Globe and an Oscar. 

Ava Duvernay with the stars of A Wrinkle in Time: Reese Witherspoon and Oprah

Sundance Film Festival kicked this success story off back in 2012, but DuVernay wants everyone to know that her path to success was paved with hard work and plenty of rejection.

Writing on Twitter today, as next year’s slate of Sundance Film Festival movies was announced (more than half of which were directed by women), DuVernay counselled everyone who didn’t make the cut to try and try again.

“I was rejected from Sundance six times,” she wrote. “For the festival in three different years. The labs in four different seasons. It is what it is.” 

“Keep making your stuff. Stay focused on what you want to say and make it and keep going. You’re okay. Keep going.”

DuVernay’s message of resilience and perseverance struck a chord with her fans, who shared their own stories of experiencing rejection with the filmmaker on social media.

As DuVernay noted, she was rejected from the Sundance Film Festival a total of six times over the course of three years and four seasons before she finally got her film Middle of Nowhere into competition.

That movie was, itself, rejected from the festival’s labs incubation program, but DuVernay didn’t let that rejection stop her. She doubled down, self-funded a distribution company and green lit herself to make movies and tell the stories she wanted to tell, stories that weren’t being told in the traditional studio system. Middle of Nowhere won DuVernay the Best Director award at Sundance, making DuVernay the first black woman to hold that tile.

Her next movie, also starring Oyelowo, was the Oscar-nominated Martin Luther King biopic Selma.

“Ignore the glass ceiling and do your work,” DuVernay has said, of making her voice heard in Hollywood. “If you’re focusing on the glass ceiling, focusing on what you don’t have, focusing on the limitations, then you will be limited. My way was to work, make my short… make my documentary… make my small films… use my own money… raise money myself… and stay shooting and focused on each project.”

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

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