When executives from Prada and Miu Miu approached Ava DuVernay about directing the fifth part of Women’s Tales, a series of short films showcasing their Spring 2013 collection, DuVernay knew exactly the story she’d tell—and the faces she'd need.
Last year, DuVernay became the first African-American woman to walk away with Sundance’s coveted Best Director award for her powerful indie drama Middle of Nowhere. Unexpected opportunities—like the Miu Miu gig—weren’t far behind.
“I have to say I was stunned to have my first job after winning Sundance be working with a major fashion house,” said DuVernay. “I never expected such a thing and they gave me full reign over my ideas, concept and the cast. I had full access to their collection and the ability to have custom outfits made for the shoot. It was a dream come true, really.”
The director utilized the same stunning visuals she’d employed in her previous two films to bring to life the breath-taking nine-minute silent short feature for the Italian fashion house. The Door is the story of five women, all African-American, and their strong bond as one struggles to overcome a deep depression after a heartbreaking divorce. As each woman visits their friend, they walk through “the door” of her home and help choose a Miu Miu outfit for her first evening out on the town as a single woman.
As she’s done before, DuVernay pulls together a stunning cast of brown female faces that each manages to haunt the screen without ever uttering a word. Gabrielle Union, Alfre Woodard, Emayatazy Corinealdi, Goapele, and Adepero Oduye round out the cast and all (with the exception of Woodard) arguably warrant larger Hollywood profiles but, as DuVernay notes, opportunities continue to be limited for women of a certain hue before and behind the camera.
“In the larger landscape, black actresses have to compete with a European standard of beauty at every turn. That bias sometimes expresses itself as a discomfort with black women whose beauty exceeds the standard of the dominant culture. Regardless of that, I try to celebrate black women in my work in all their forms, hues, and ages.”
Miu Miu’s decision to hire DuVernay as director—and to use an entirely African-American female cast—may signal the fashion industry’s willingness to embrace a much more diverse look in their campaigns, even if Hollywood isn’t. The fact that DuVernay could be awarded Best Director for her critically acclaimed drama Middle of Nowhere at Sundance and then be completely shut out by the Oscars begs that the same question that’s been asked for several decades in Hollywood be pondered and asked once again. Are African-American stories on film only recognized and considered valuable when told by those who aren’t black? If this year’s Oscars are any indication, the answer is yes. Stories of African-American life in the distant past (Lincoln) or those that are dysfunctional or show extreme hardship (Beast of the Southern Wild) dominate the nominations this year just as they have in previous years with films such as The Help, Precious, and Monsters Ball. In sharp contrast to those films, DuVernay’s style of filmmaking depicts a much more modern and progressive view of African-American life. Her work reveals its intense difficulties as well as its immense beauty. She brings that same vision and clarity to The Door—and Hollywood should take note.