As part of the New Yorker Festival this past weekend, filmmaker Ava DuVernay sat down with Jelani Cobb to talk about their friendship, criminal justice reform, and navigating Hollywood as a black woman in charge.
During their conversation, DuVernay revealed the one time in her career she feels like she betrayed herself: by not making sure she got a writing credit for Selma, the Oscar-nominated movie she directed.
"I wrote that script. And my name is not on it," DuVernay said. "And the credit was taken from me because of a contractual issue."
She said she infused the script with stories from her dad, who was raised in Lowndes County, Alabama, the county right between Montgomery and Selma.
DuVernay said she was frustrated that Selma screenwriter Paul Webb "wasn't willing" to share credit on the screenplay.
“At the time, decisions were made that I was a part of to not talk about that, not to create controversy around the film for Oscars,” she said.
And by not taking issue over the screenwriting credit, DuVernay said she “invited energetically the largest, most bullshit controversy on any film that season," referring to the allegations that the film made Lyndon B. Johnson too racist.
DuVernay tweeted about it at the time.
All DuVernay could think in the wake of the backlash was: “You betrayed yourself, your work, your art, you compromised your voice..."
The huge lesson DuVernay said she learned was: “Whatever thing in your life you're being asked to compromise or to bend — and sometimes we have to be collaborative and you have to just kind of shape things, craft things to a certain way — but when you know in your gut it's wrong, just don't do it.”
Marcus Jones is an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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