Ava DuVernay‘s sobering documentary “13th,” which explores the systematic disenfranchisement of African Americans from the Jim Crow era through today’s mass incarceration, has already been through awards season.
It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in January, sending DuVernay through the craziness of the Oscar race — and then, six months later, it landed eight Emmy nominations, including nods for directing, editing, writing, music, cinematography and sound, as well as Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special.
“It is literally one of the weird Bermuda Triangle things of working with Netflix,” DuVernay said of the return trip to awards season. “You think, ‘Wait a minute, it’s a film and a TV show?’
“But for me, the whole point was to get people to see this piece, and for this information to be out there. I didn’t go into it thinking it would get any kind of accolades, but the nominations serve that purpose — there was a whole influx of new viewers when the nominations came out.”
DuVernay, whose features include “Selma,” “Middle of Nowhere” and next year’s Disney epic “A Wrinkle in Time,” is only one of several feature filmmakers who are in the Emmy race for directing television this year. Ron Howard is another, of course, as are Jean-Marc Valée (“Big Little Lies”), Stephen Daldry (“The Crown”) and James Marsh (“The Night Of”), while other feature directors, including Jane Campion, David Lynch and Rod Lurie, are also spending time on the small screen.
“To me, it doesn’t matter anymore,” said DuVernay, who is also working on the series “Queen Sugar.” “I’m just grateful that I’m coming to a point in my filmmaking career that is intersecting with a time when the format is less important. What a thrill that I can make docs, I can make films, I can make series, I can make things for theaters, for streaming, for television. I think a lot of directors have embraced this moment where you can do and make anything.”
The reach of Netflix, she said, surprised her. “I just knew that they were giving me the budget and the resources to tell the story, but I didn’t really think about the power of the platform and how much it would permeate the culture. This thing dropped the same day in 190 countries. It’s been overwhelming: More people have seen ’13th’ than everything I’ve ever done put together. The series, ‘Selma,’ anything.”
And the film snobs who scoff at Netflix, she added, are missing the boat. “I’m such an evangelist now,” she said. “If you want your film to be seen, isn’t it worth reexamining tradition and disengaging yourself from the old tropes and walls, and letting your images and your ideas spread further than they could have in the past?”
Read more of the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy Magazine.