While working on the first season of “Queen Sugar,” Ava DuVernay was shocked to discover that many of her black female director friends who had directed features could not break into directing episodes of television.
“It’s just that first episode of television. Once you have it, it really opens up,” DuVernay said on stage during a panel alongside her frequent collaborator Oprah Winfrey at the Produced By Conference.
The “Selma” and “Wrinkle in Time” director, working on her first TV show, immediately hired women of color to direct episodes of the show’s first season, and that door opening has paid dividends.
“All of those women directors from Season 1, you can’t book them now,” said Winfrey, who is an executive producer on the show that airs on her network. “It elevated the conversation, so other people started talking about it, so it makes you think a little differently next time you’re going to hire.”
Season 2 goes even further, and every episode is directed by a woman.
“Because we can,” said Winfrey. “We can do that!”
Winfrey and DuVernay also discussed the difficulty in discovering up and coming below the line talent since various department heads like working with the same people over and over again. It became such an issue that the director put a mandate on all her projects, including “A Wrinkle in Time” and “Queen Sugar.”
“If you’re a department head, do not come to me with a list of white men,” DuVernay said. “You have to show me that you’ve looked at other people. Other people are excellent other than the people you know, and you have to show me that you’ve done that before we make any hire.”
The director, who is putting the finishing touches on “A Wrinkle in Time,” recognized that it all starts at the top.
“It’s a cultural thing,” DuVernay said. “The culture of OWN and ‘Queen Sugar’ and ‘Wrinkle’ is to be inclusive. The culture of so many other things is not to be.”