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Profile: Ava DuVernay

Director Ava DuVernay, whose 2019 miniseries “When They See Us” started a national conversation about the five teenagers of color wrongly convicted in the 1989 Central Park jogger case, will tell new stories about police brutality through her latest initiative, the Law Enforcement Accountability Project.

The initiative will fund 25 short-term projects, including film, theater, music and literature over the next two years through Array Alliance, DuVernay’s nonprofit for diversity in film. Kicking off with a $3 million budget backed by the Ford Foundation and producer Ryan Murphy, LEAP’s mission is to disrupt the code of silence that exists around police aggression and misconduct.

DuVernay has been spurred to action after watching the disturbing video—shot by a 17-year-old onlooker—of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck. The officer, who has been fired and faces charges of second-degree murder, revealed the “invisibility” of abusive police officers like she had never seen before.

“We actually watched both parties’ faces perfectly framed. It was both men right in your face, right to the lens, one begging for his life and one taking his life,” DuVernay told Ellen DeGeneres. “It made me realize that we have let police officers who abuse off the hook by allowing them to recede into society and kind of disappear.”

DuVernay’s groundbreaking work has gained heightened relevance as a source of education for non-black people on the history of American racial discrimination in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In April, Netflix made DuVernay’s 2016 documentary on the intersection of race and mass incarceration in the U.S., “13th, free to watch on YouTube for teachers to show students during quarantine. However, since Floyd’s death sparked a new wave of digital activism against police violence two weeks ago, the Academy-Award nominated film has been trending on Netflix. DuVernay is also known for her 2014 historical drama “Selma”, which looks at Martin Luther King Jr.’s voting-rights march against racial injustice to Montgomery in 1965.

Last month, DuVernay launched the online education initiative ARRAY 101 to provide learning guides for her company’s film and television series. The first guide released accompanies her Emmy-nominated Netflix series “When They See Us”.


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