Monday, April 19, 2021

Son of Baldwin Creator Pens Inspirational Open Letter to Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay*Ava DuVernay’s Oscar nomination snub for best director came as a surprise for many people, including writer/blogger Robert Jones, Jr., who penned an inspirational open letter to the filmmaker.

In the missive, posted on’s Shadow and Act, the Son of Baldwin social justice brand creator cited the strong characters of DuVernay’s past films as a vehicle for showing the various sides of black people, in addition to mentioning authors Toni Morrison and James Baldwin.

Referencing Anthony Mackie’s recent comments about “Selma’”s Oscar snub, which he attributed to people being tired of talking about race, Jones noted the “‘Song of the South’-like deference to Whiteness” of Mackie’s character in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

“From my vantage point, it doesn’t seem like Hollywood is tired of talking about race; it seems they’re frightened by not being able to control the narrative about it,” he said.

Jones later expressed how grateful he was that DuVernay ended up directing “Selma” rather than “The Butler” filmmaker Lee Daniels, who he said passed on the project. In addition, Jones praised  DuVernay’s ability to make such a powerful film as well as “Selma’”s snub, saying, “I actually regard the Academy’s snubbing of your directorial prowess as a compliment, a blessing, a testament to the humanity of your artistry.”

Jones, who also referenced “civil rights pioneer Ella Baker,” concluded his note with specific reasons for writing his open letter to DuVernay while mentioning the very people and circumstances he is writing for.

“I write to you because I know there is no separation between the little black girls blown to smithereens in Birmingham, Alabama, and the little black girl blown to smithereens in Maiduguri, Borno State. I write to you because there is no difference between “We Shall Overcome” and #BlackLivesMatter. I write to you now, at this moment, because vibrations from SNCC and the Dream Defenders shake my dungeon. I write because both Bayard Rustin and Islan Nettles don’t rest well in the ground,” wrote Jones.

“I write to you for the named and the unnamed, for those who lived and those who didn’t, for those who made it to the shore and those who rejoice from the dark depths of the ocean because they know that their sacrifices, the dearest of prices they paid, no matter how many centuries might pass, shall not be squandered because of you, Ava, and what you dare to dream.

“I write to you because you need to know that your love for us is genuinely reciprocated.”

Read Jones’s open letter to DuVernay:

Dear Ava,

I feel somewhat self-conscious about writing this letter to you, about this particular subject matter, as bombs are strapped to little black girls and detonated in town squares; as men of color are pushed from rooftops, real and figurative, because they dared to love other men; as black transgender women are bludgeoned to death in broad daylight, in front of unmoved spectators, in streets all over the country; as black disabled people are scapegoated and executed as regular cultural practice; as American police forces, much like the paddy rollers and Klansmen before them, don’t possess the necessary humanity required to distinguish black people from shooting targets. These are hurried and complex times.

Some would say that now, in the midst of this mayhem, is not the time to center art, that the artist, for the present moment, must necessarily recede into the background in order to make room for the revolutionary—as though those two states of being, those two approaches to the matters at hand, are mutually exclusive; as though they couldn’t exist simultaneously, even within the same person. The conventional wisdom asks why devote time to the public defense of a filmmaker when my energy could be better spent in the streets (as though multitasking is outside the realm of possibility).

But I have seen your art from nearly the beginning; seen it and understood it precisely for what it was. “My Mic Sounds Nice,” “I Will Follow,” “Middle of Nowhere,” “The Door,” “Venus Vs.” Here, in these filmic multiverses, black people are fully realized, dimensional. Like in Toni Morrison’s literary canon, when you say “people,” you mean “black people.” You have given us the joyous opportunity to be the Default: flesh and blood and brain and bone; sly and raucous; shining and fretful; rhythmic and flawed; quiet and funky; loud, honey, and shaking groove things; beautiful, but most importantly, ordinary. The fantasy of being a regular ol’ human being, a basic principle that Hollywood has, since its inception, denied black people. Instead, it has been doing the insidious work that I suppose any white supremacist society is charged with doing if it wishes to remain white supremacist: disseminating half-truths and half-lives; making us the Ooga Booga and other things that go bump at midnight in the homes of white folk; or, conversely, sexless, smiling, supernatural sage-servants who exist only to make white people’s lives more livable rewarding, mightily, the complicit among us.

Actor Anthony Mackie says that Hollywood is simply tired of talking about race. I wonder: Did he see Annabelle? They literally had Alfre Woodard’s character jump out of the window and give her soul to the devil to save a white woman and her baby. Did he analyze his own character’s “Song of the South”-like deference to Whiteness in the Captain America sequel? From my vantage point, it doesn’t seem like Hollywood is tired of talking about race; it seems they’re frightened by not being able to control the narrative about it. As James Baldwin pointed out in 1964, “I, speaking now as Negro, have been described by you for hundreds of years. And now, I can describe you. And that’s part of [your] panic.”

But really, we ain’t even thinking about them.


That’s a lie.

Finish reading this open letter to “Selma” director, Ava DuVernay, at Shadow and Act.



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