"Selma" Director, Ava Duvernay

By Aisha Kabiru Mohammed | Feb 8, 2023

Ava Durvenay is an American filmmaker, television producer and film publicist. She won the directing award in the U.S. dramatic competition at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere, becoming the first black woman to win the award.

For her work on Selma (2014), DuVernay became the first black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Director, and also the first black female director to have her film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.


Early Life 

Ava Marie DuVernay was born on August 24, 1972, in Long Beach, California. She was raised by her mother, Darlene (née Sexton), an educator, and her stepfather, Murray Maye. The surname of her biological father, Joseph Marcel DuVernay III, originates from Louisiana Creole ancestry. She grew up in Lynwood, California. She has four siblings.

During her summer vacations, she would travel to her father's childhood home, not far from Selma, Alabama. DuVernay said that these summers influenced the making of Selma, as her father had witnessed the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches.

In 1990, DuVernay graduated from Saint Joseph High School in Lakewood. At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), she was a double BA major in English literature and African-American studies. Ava is an honorary member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.



In 2008 DuVernay transitioned to writing, directing, and producing films. She first gained critical attention with the documentary This Is the Life (2008), about the creation of the hip-hop movement in Los Angeles in the 1990s. 

In 2010 DuVernay founded the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (now Array), which promotes women and people of color in the film industry. The company distributed DuVernay’s first feature film, I Will Follow (2010), a drama exploring a woman’s grief after the death of a relative. Middle of Nowhere (2012) shows the daily life of a young woman whose husband is in jail. With that movie, DuVernay became the first African American woman to win the best director award at the Sundance Film Festival.

The film that brought DuVernay to the attention of a broader audience base was the 2014 historical drama, Selma. It chronicles the 1965 civil rights march led by Martin Luther King, Jr., that resulted in the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Selma was critically acclaimed, and DuVernay became the first African American woman to receive a Golden Globe nomination for best director. 

In addition, the movie was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture. In 2016 DuVernay released the Oscar-nominated documentary 13th, an exploration of the American prison system and its racial inequities. She returned to feature films as director of the adventure fantasy A Wrinkle in Time (2018). It was based on the award-winning 1962 book by Madeleine L’Engle and featured a multicultural cast that included Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling.

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