The Oscar nominee for Selma and 13th thought that door wasn’t open for her, and now makes sure to keep it open for the next generation of female directors

By Mary Green
October 11, 2020 10:00 AM
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Ava DuVernay used to be able to tell which of her projects a fan liked best before they even told her.

“Then one time this older white woman came up to me, and I thought, ‘She probably liked Selma,’” she recalls to PEOPLE. “Instead, she walked up to me and wanted to tell me everything about Ralph Angel Bordelon, the hot young guy on Queen Sugar [her hit series on OWN]. And then I had a Somali man come up to me in the airport and he wanted to talk all about Storm Reid in Wrinkle in Time, and how much he loved her.”

“You never know, we all watch everything now,” she says, adding gratefully, “If you can have someone feeling deeply about what you've made, then you've won.”

DuVernay, 48, who hired only female directors to helm the first season of Queen Sugar, is now amplifying a new group of young, international directors as part of the new series of VR documentaries called New Realities in celebration of the UN’s International Day of the Girl on Oct. 11.

The Oscar nominee is a producer on the series, which is presented by Lenovo and championed by Girl Up, the gender equality initiative of the United Nations Foundation. It chronicles the individual journeys of a diverse group of 10 young women from Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the U.K. and the U.S..

The experience made her think of her own roots. “It makes me think about everything that I missed out on because I didn't become a filmmaker until I was in my 30s,” says DuVernay. “At the age that these girls are, I had no concept that a black woman could be a director. I had no idea that a woman could be a director. I'd never seen it.”

And now she hopes this series will inspire the next generation of female directors. “You can go to their village,” she says. “Be in their city, to see that country through the girl's eyes. The fact that you have girls that are young, these girls are just getting started and are not just making films, they're making films in 360 reality. It's really incredible.”