In the short time Ava DuVernay has been directing, she has been a major success. Importantly, her success has also made serious ground for women and particularly women of color to take their spot at the directors’ chair.
This matters because this position has historically been designated to white heterosexual men and these same men have and continue to be, in control of what viewers see on screen.
In the time preceding her career as a director, DuVernay has dabbled into the world of writing and producing, and her additional experience in both documentary and independent filmmaking, all demonstrate that she is well versed on how the film industry really operates.
Despite her recent successes (Selma, 13th, and A Wrinkle in Time), DuVernay hasn’t forgotten the struggle of trying to make it in a predominately white male-dominated industry as a person of color and especially as a woman of color. She has remained grounded.
From first-hand experience, DuVernay is conscious of the institutional obstacles that women and particularly women of color encounter in their attempt to move through the professional ranks, simply get opportunities for work, or have their films perceived as viable for financial backing from studios, networks, and financiers.
As a response, DuVernay has taken matters into her own hands. She has developed a female-led directors’ initiative — a kind of informal enacting of affirmative action for women to direct episodes of her series Queen Sugar.
Finishing up its third season, with a fourth to come, Queen Sugar is offering the opportunity for women to develop their directorial skills and for some to have their directorial debut for TV.
Fundamentally, its an opportunity to make money and earn a living, since its extremely difficult for women to get the green light from studios to direct film projects.
In a climate in which women directors often only getting the occasional stint to work on projects what DuVernay is doing is huge and is an admirable model for those who are better established in their career to follow.
With DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey serving as executive producers for Queen Sugar, these up-and-coming female directors have the reassurance that powerful women have their back and are supporting them. Here is a list of directors who have had the opportunity to sit in the directors’ chair and a little bit about their careers thus far:
DeMane Davis directed two episodes of season two of Queen Sugar.
She has directed commercials, music videos and made two feature films Black & White and Red All Over and Lift. Both of her feature films premiered and gained critical acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival.
So Yong Kim
Directed one episode of season one, So Yong Kim‘s most recent feature film Lovesong is actually one of my favorite films to be released in the last five years and is still available on Netflix.
Lovesong is perhaps the most nuanced depiction of queer love between two women that I have seen in cinema. Plus, doesn’t reproduce heteronormative stereotypes or gender roles, now how about that?! She’s also responsible for the critically-acclaimed films Lovesong and Treeless Mountain.
Most known for her feature film Mississippi Damned, Tina Mabry directed an episode for Queen Sugar but has also had a series of stints on a variety of television series.
Her other works include episodes of Dear White People, Insecure, and Power.
Kat Candler directed several episodes of Queen Sugar but is best known for her feature Hellion.
Before directing television, Candler had made several short films and is well known within the international film festival circuit.
Starting her career as an actress, Victoria Mahoney has now moved behind the camera.
Her feature film Yelling to the Sky is available on Netflix and she has directed episodes for several television shows.
She has also recently been asked to be a second unit director for the Star Wars: Episode IX film, making her the first African-American woman to serve in any directing role.