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Director Ava DuVernay’s favourite classic films of all time


In the drive for racial equality in Hollywood, there are few filmmakers as prolific as Ava DuVernay, a director who has consistently proved her proficiency in contemporary cinema with films such as Selma, 13th and When They See Us. Each of these aforementioned films has worked to highlight key historical moments in the drive for civil rights, educating and informing audiences across the world as to the struggle of the ongoing cause. 

Beginning her career in 2006 making short films and documentaries, it wouldn’t be until 2010 that DuVernay would make her very first feature film with I Will Follow, a drama following the wife of an incarcerated man who is trying to navigate modern life. With a powerful subtext regarding how the prison institution works against people of colour, the filmmaker told the LA Times in 2012, “The idea of looking at the victims of incarceration – the mothers, sisters and daughters — really came out of knowing women who were going through it”. 

Since her feature film debut, Ava DuVernay has grown to become one of the leading voices of modern cinema thanks to the award-winning 2014 drama Selma and the music video ‘Family Fued’ that she created for Jay Z and Beyoncé. Working across TV and film, DuVernay even managed to release the big-budget film, A Wrinkle in Time in 2018, featuring Storm Reid, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Oprah Winfrey and Mindy Kaling. 

As her voice has grown ever-louder in the industry, DuVernay has found herself at the very forefront of cinema, recently appearing on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to discuss her favourite classic films of all time. Asked to curate the channels ‘essentials’ series, the filmmaker enthusiastically stated, “to think that you could, hopefully, attract new audiences to TCM to watch some of this and to think that it could change people in the way it changed me was really exciting”. 

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Choosing many films that were not even in the channel’s library, Ava DuVernay picked out the likes of Haile Gerima’s Ashes and Embers, Kathleen Collins’ semi-autobiographical Losing Ground as well as the likes of better-known titles such as Harlan County U.S.A, The Battle of Algiers and Dog Day Afternoon. Making sure she covered key documentaries as well as important films from black filmmakers, DuVernay also included Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust as well as Agnes Varda’s debut film La Point Courte and Chantal Akerman’s The Meetings of Anna. 

Perhaps the film she is most looking forward to audiences viewing is Kathleen Collins’ Losing Ground from 1982, with DuVernay particularly impressed by the slice of life perspective of an impressive black filmmaker. Explaining her excitement, the director revealed: “That’s one that especially as a black woman filmmaker, I feel so connected to wanting to make sure people know her, know that she existed, know what she said and what she put out in the world and to really appreciate that she just was”. 

Take a look at the full list of Ava DuVernay’s favourite classic films, below:

Ava DuVernay’s favourite classic films:

  1. Ashes and Embers (Haile Gerima, 1982)
  2. The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966)
  3. Claudine (John Berry, 1974)
  4. Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991)
  5. Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975)
  6. Gandhi (Richard Attenborough, 1982)
  7. Harlan County U.S.A. (Barbara Kopple, 1976)
  8. La Point Courte (Agnès Varda, 1955)
  9. Losing Ground (Kathleen Collins, 1982)
  10. The Meetings of Anna (Chantal Akerman, 1978)
  11. Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955)
  12. Sounder (Martin Ritt, 1972)
  13. West Side Story (Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise, 1961)

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