Achieving success in Hollywood is impossible for most and a high-hurdle even for the most talented. So imagine the rare odds of reaching that milestone, not once, but twice… Meet Ava DuVernay-known to most as “Ava the unstoppable”. As the chief executive officer of the multi-media agency DVA Media + Marketing, Ava has for more than a decade played a pivotal role in the success of film projects like “Dream Girls,” “Madagascar,” “Collateral” and others. Through DVA she also owns and operates the nation’s largest urban retail promotional network, Urban Beauty Collective and the African American blog site Urban Thought Collective. A self-described film fanatic, Ava realized her long held aspiration to become a filmmaker in 2006 with her award-winning short “Saturday Night Life”. Later this month, her debut full-length documentary “This is the Life” will be released on DVD nationwide. The Robertson Treatment recently spoke to the soon-to-be entertainment mogul to discuss her career as a real Hollywood player.
Robertson Treatment (RT): What was your motivation for making this project?
Ava DuVernay (AD): I always knew that I wanted to make a film chronicling the true LA hip hop movement. It’s such a rich story with such colorful characters. None of it had ever been fully represented on screen. So when another project fell out that was supposed to be my first film, I jumped at the chance to tell this story.
RT: What did the hip-hop jam sessions at the Good Life Café represent to the community?
AD: The Good Life represented truth. Not to be too abstract about it, but we weren’t hearing truth on the airwaves at the time. We were hearing a lot of “gangsta rap.” The Good Life artists spoke the truth about their experiences as young people of color living in south Los Angeles. Not the studio gangsta stuff. Not the glossy, flossy stuff. Nothing contrived. The Good Life audiences didn’t tolerate that. You had to come correct, be honest about what you were saying on the mic. Be hard-working at your craft. And in doing so, the truth about ourselves and our community saw the light of day. Despite best attempts by mass media and major record labels to homogenize and control that, The Good Life thrived by just being real.
RT: Your interpretation of LA’s rap community is very raw, poignant and contrary to the way in which West coast rap is often viewed. Why do feel such divergent viewpoints of the genre exist?
AD: Money. Money makes people do crazy things. Makes people who aren’t gangsters perpetrate as gang bangers. Makes people compromise. I can’t judge that because every one has their reasons. I just want the film to show that there were people out here in LA who were true to themselves, their art. People who lived and breathed it and took it seriously. There were and are people for whom hip hop is not just about a check.
RT: Your filmography thus far includes representations of black life that are often not seen in cinema. Why is the telling of these stories important to you?
AD: Oh gosh, I hope I get to build a filmography that paints a fuller picture of Black Life. Not necessarily always perfect and Huxtablish. And not necessarily always demonized and violent. While those two sides exist, they are more often extremes. I’m interested in the space in between, where the majority of real folks live.
RT: You are a legend in entertainment and publicity circles as the go-to person for PR & Marketing, so given your success in that arena why are you branching out into a new career as a filmmaker?
AD: I don’t know about the legend part, but I did okay in the PR and marketing business. I’m blessed to have enjoyed promoting the work of other filmmakers and artists. Now, I feel its time to step outside of the comfort zone of my agency. Challenge myself. Follow my whims. Why not?
RT: What sentiment or space of emotion do you want to leave people with after watching “This Is Life”?
AD: I hope people feel inspired to learn more about the music and the artists we follow in the film. These are wonderful people, talented people, who deserve some time in the sun. I hope this film sheds some overdue light on them.
– Gil Robertson IV is author of the nationally syndicated column, The Robertson Treatment. www.robertsontreatment.com.