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Ava DuVernay Is The Energy Frequency I Want To Be On All Year Long

"I think any black woman is a queen. It's just, do you know it? Do you see it in yourself? Do you recognize it, do you abide by that, do you define yourself as that?"—Ava DuVernay

Culture & Entertainment

It was almost this time last year that I wrote "Wanna Start Your Own T-Shirt Line? 7 Pros Will Show You How" for the site. I make no apologies for the fact that I am borderline obsessed with a good unisex, Bella Canvas, T-shirt in a large, that has a great message on it. I just like how tees give you the ability to convey a message without saying a single word. Well, aside from the not-lucky-but-blessed sweatshirt, Black Dope Marriage Coach and Harpo, Who Dis Woman? tees that I recently copped, something that I've also been looking for is a T-shirt that represents a woman who I personally think handles herself in such a phenomenal fashion that her name is actually gonna be used as a verb in my life (like "Girl, you just Ava'd that!") all of this year —Ava DuVernay.

To get into all that she's accomplished as a filmmaker and film distributor would require more than just one article. For now, I'll just say that if you're a fan of the OWN seriesQueen Sugar, thank Ava. If the series based on the Central Park Five,When They See Us, completely moved to you to anger, then tears, then admiration for the strength of the five men in the story, thank Ava. Selma? That's what earned her the bestowed title of being the first Black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Director and also best director when it came to the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2014. Maybe Black Love on your television screen is what you seek. Thanks to Ava, via her upcoming OWN drama,Cherish the Day, you're all set.

Honestly, to even begin to grasp all that Ava's accomplished, you'd need to get a glass of wine, curl up on the couch and review her Wikipedia page and website (not necessarily in that order either). For now, I'll just say that if you're a creative who's looking for some inspiration to breakout and do something that a shirt that I like says ("Keep Creating Dope Ass S—t 'Til Someone Notices"), unequivocally, Ava can serve as your muse. Case in point:

Can you tell I'm a fan? Indeed, I am. But today, it's not actually her resume that I want to get into. Rather, I'd like to simply take a little bit of your time to express why I personally find her name (Ava, if somehow you end up reading this, have you seenthis T-shirt before? At first I thought it was about you) to be a verb—"a word that represents an action or a state of being". Because how she appears to move—as a woman who is gracious, focused, fearless, private and totally unbothered—is just how I want to handle whatever 2020 brings my way.

She's Gracious

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To be gracious is to be "pleasantly kind, benevolent, and courteous". Even though Ava's Netflix series When They See Us did not earn a Golden Globe nomination (I'll touch a little more on that at the end of this piece), if you hop on over to Ava's Twitter page, you'll see her posting words of gratitude to folks like Brad Pitt and Robert De Niro for being co-executive producers on Selma and shouting out other accomplished individuals like Patricia Cardoso who is the first Latina director to be included in the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. Interestingly enough, I'm not the only one who thinks that "gracious" is an appropriate adjective for her (click here for a really cool example).

There are a lot of narcissists in this world. Selfish and self-absorbed people too. It's a real gift if you've got the ability to still remember to be kind, to help others and shoot—to be freakin' polite. How cool is it that someone with the accolades that Ava has still makes the time to be thankful, supportive and to celebrate others? That is a trait all of us should have. No doubt about it.

She's Focused

If you want to see Ava in a not-so-formal setting, check out herShine On with Reese (that would be Witherspoon) interview from 2018. She talks about her first job being at a yogurt place, working as a publicist and not even picking up a camera until 32. Something that really stood out to me is her expressing just how much she loves what she does and how, "Your change from one career to another doesn't have to be all at once. It definitely and should be progressive." She also talks about "cobbling through" her film school experience for herself without ever sitting in a classroom (I can relate. I flunked out of college twice and still became a writer; we'll have to talk about that on another day). Instead, she said that she watched over 200 DVD commentaries of directors and determined in her mind, "I only have what's inside of me, and I had to be able to tell myself 'That's enough'."

Talk about drive. Talk about ambition. Talk about focus. No wonder she's able to introduce us to a new project—not just project but quality project—every time we blink. No wonder she also has the time to advocate for others (see "Ava Duvernay Just Hired A 50% Female Production Staff For Her New Series On OWN"). She's a living and breathing reminder that when you are crystal clear about your purpose and how it is designed to affect as well as benefit other people, it's hard to get distracted by…fame, trolls, critics, obstacles or even your own self-doubt. Focus y'all. Stay. Focused.

She's Fearless

There is a doctor by the name of Ashish Patel who once said, "The elegance under pressure is the result of fearlessness." Man, if this doesn't embody Ava, I don't know what does because, looka here—if you never considered her to be fearless before, you should hang out on her Twitter page more often. Shoot, just the straight-up read alone that she dished out to Ms. Megan Kelly and the tweet she sent out to Jack (the CEO of Twitter) to hold y'all's president accountable are enough examples to remind us that our platform should be about more than stacking up followers. We should each use our gifts, talents, social media accounts and influence to stand up for what we believe in, to push back on things that we don't agree with, and to seek justice in the areas we are truly passionate about.

And what if we're disliked for it? Something tells me that Ava doesn't lose a lot of sleep over questions like that. Something tells me she's more in the lane of Margaret Thatcher—"If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything, at any time—and you would achieve nothing." That'll preach. A billion times over.

She's Private

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I want to say that Ava tweeted it out herself sometime last year, but something that I find to be really cool about her is she's consistently active on social media; not her "team"—her. Still, you don't really know all that much about her personal life. Her Twitter bio says that she's (currently) a "Mom of 10" (she's referring to her creative babies). Her bio tells you that she's from Long Beach, California and her alma mater is the University of California. Still, you really don't know much more than that. Is she seeing someone? We don't know. What's her net worth? Rumors say that it's somewhere around (whew!) $60 million, but I've never heard her bring it up. We do know her age and, since she was born in 1972 (she's a Virgo, by the way), I totally get why she wanted everyone to nix the whole "Auntie Ava" thing. Per this tweet, I think she's a vegan. I'm assuming her favorite color may be black (only because I see her in it a lot). But really, what can we confirm?

And that's what I think is so dope. For the most part, all you know about Ava is related to her art—and her advocating for others; oh, and her sometimes putting folks in check. It's like she totally embodies a quote by an author named Katherine Neville— "Privacy—like eating and breathing—is one of life's basic requirements." To be able to pull that off in a world that is oh-so-very-nosey, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is a feat within itself. Then to be able to be private in a way where folks feel connected to you without them being in all of your business? That's an art form. One that more of us could stand to adapt, don't cha think?

She's Totally Unbothered

*le sigh* The Golden Globes. Yeah, I'll spare y'all my soapbox thoughts on that awards program (or the politics of award shows, in general). What I will say is when I saw some of what was nominated while When They See Us was overlooked, I couldn't help but to immediately conjure up some of my own conspiracy theories. It really is crazy, just how much a lot of this world would rather be entertained—mindlessly so—than inspired. But you know what? I did get another Ava-related takeaway from it. If Omarion won the Totally Unbothered Award for 2019 (and he did), Ava has to at least be nominated for 2020. Just peep her tweet about the awards show (see above). Look at how she chose to look at it.

I don't personally know Ava, so I can't speak to why she's so calm, cool and collected about everything. But what I can do is speak to how her energy ministers to me personally—"Shellie, stick to your purpose, do your best and be your own biggest fan. If you commit to doing those things, not only will you be untouchable but unstoppable." Y'all, being unbothered is a superpower because it keeps you centered, balanced and able to keep pressing forward. We ALL need to be on that tip this year. Each and every one of us.

Something else that Ava once said is, "I love to see people just being regal in their own skin; it's just when they know who they are." Regal. Some synonyms for that word include royal, majestic and sublime. When you see yourself in this fashion, it's a lot easier to walk through this life, both online as well as off, yep—totally unbothered.

So yeah, call this a "jock piece" if you want. I don't care. The energy frequency that Ms. Ava DuVernay is on, that is what I totally aspire to this year. So, if somebody can point me in the direction of a really cool portrait T-shirt with her on it, I'd be grateful (sidebar, I'm on the hunt for a Yara Shahidi one too). For me, it's symbolic of the fact that you know you're truly on task when you motivate others.

Ava, big ups for doing that. Keep walking in your greatness, holding people accountable with your tweets and, in some ways, keeping us wondering. It's a part of your charm. Not only can I dig it. I totally appreciate it. It inspires me. It really does. Thank you.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

When They See Us: 5 Things You Didn't Know About The Central Park Five

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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