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Ava DuVernay first Black woman to compete at Venice Film Festival

The award-winning director will also receive an award from an AIDS relief organization during the annual festivities in Italy.

(Prakash Shroff)

Ava DuVernay is set to make history this summer, with her upcoming film “Origin” set to premiere this September at the 2023 Venice Film Festival (VFF) in Italy, where it will be among several competing for the top prize during the 11-day event. DuVernay is the first African-American woman director to have a film there in competition.

The festival organizers announced the news earlier this month. The Catholic-raised DuVernay is one of five women whose films were selected by the VFF committee, and is premiering her first feature since 2018’s “A Wrinkle in Time.”

“Origin,” based on the 2020 bestseller “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Pulitzer Prize-winning Isabel Wilkerson, covers the history of racism in the United States and its parallels with caste systems in other parts of the world. 

The film, which began principal photography in late 2022, is scheduled to screen on Wednesday, September 6, in the Golden Lion category at Venice. It was co-produced by DuVernay and Paul Garnes under her production company, ARRAY.

“Ava will become the first African-American woman director to compete on the Lido in the festival’s 80-year history,” ARRAY wrote on social media following the VFF announcement event.

“We salute the crew and cast, led by the remarkable Aunjanue Ellis.”

Amid the ongoing Hollywood writer's strikes, writers and actors have generally avoided promotional events for films and other media, but directors like DuVernay are not under the same restrictions.

Venice, one of the three most prestigious film festivals in the world, is also not under the purview of SAG-AFTRA or the Writers Guild of America, which are organizing the as-yet unsuccessful American labor disputes.

“This is a human issue,” the Academy Award-nominated director said in an interview this week with CBS on the strikes.

“Folks need to be able to survive and thrive.”

Support for marginalized members of the film industry has been a hallmark of DuVernay’s 18-year career, including the founding of her production company, which is purposed to serve women and minorities in Hollywood. 

She was also been noted recently for co-founding with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard a new hiring network for industry talent, including crew members from underrepresented backgrounds. 

During her time this summer in Venice, DuVernay will also be honored by amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, during their annual gala on September 3 at the Scuola Grande della Misericordia.

“We are thrilled to be returning to Venice for what promises to be a festive evening raising funds to advance our lifesaving HIV cure research,” said Kevin Robert Frost, amfAR’s chief executive officer. 

“We’re delighted to be honoring Ava DuVernay with our Award of Inspiration and deeply grateful to our Chairs, sponsors and generous supporters for making this evening possible.”

“Origin” will be among the films screening publicly at the Sala Grande during the Venice festival, though tickets are currently sold out on the VFF website.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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