DuVernay, Oyelowo united in the struggle

BY TRE’VELL ANDERSON
LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS

By all accounts, 2012 was supposed to be Ava DuVernay’s year.

Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo are shown at the 32nd Annual Film Independent Spirit Awards at Beach on Feb. 25in Santa Monica, Calif.
(KAY BLAKE/ZUMA PRESS/TNS)

Her breakout sophomore feature, “Middle of Nowhere,” nabbed best director at Sundance and bountiful critical praise. But as the film’s male lead David Oyelowo can attest, there was still a struggle.

“There were other directors who were of a different gender and different race, who went on to great things immediately after their films had done the same (festival) route,” he said. “Ava was not getting the phone calls — not from agencies, TV channels, studios or other production companies.”

Five years later — after the pair reunited on the Oscar-nominated best picture entry “Selma” — DuVernay is an in-demand filmmaker responsible for both the hit TV series “Queen Sugar” and the upcoming big-budget Disney feature “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Filmmaking memories
We spoke to Oyelowo about DuVernay then and now.

Q: What comes to mind when you think of “Middle of Nowhere”?
A: We made that film for $200,000, very minimal resources. I was playing a bus driver, and we had this bus that really should’ve been condemned. It barely went and we were driving this thing around South-Central L.A.

My fondest memory is the moment I have with Emayatzy (Corinealdi) at the back of the bus, and (cinematographer) Bradford Young and his legendary beard were behind the camera. We were so jammed in there that I could feel his beard tickling my arm during this take while Ava is hovering above his shoulder giving me direction, and Emayatzy and I were sweating (laughs). It was guerrilla filmmaking at its best.

Q: Could you have predicted the gravitas DuVernay now has in the industry?
A: I couldn’t have predicted it would have happened as quickly as it has, but it fills my heart with joy. I can remember very specific phone calls — Ava and I have the kind of calls that mean our batteries consistently die on us — about how we can shift our industry to accommodate us. Definitely things have shifted, and she’s an enormous part of that.

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