Ava DuVernay, the first black female director to have her movie nominated for a Golden Globe and Academy Award, will address Cornell’s Class of 2018 during Convocation on May 26 as the keynote speaker.
According to Elizabeth Gorman ’18, chair of the Convocation Committee, throughout the search process, the committee always hoped to bring in a speaker that is inclusive and could “bring people to the table,” given today’s “very polarizing and tense climate.”
“The way we started our search process … was sort of first identifying [the] core values that we wanted our speaker to have,” Gorman told The Sun. “We wanted someone who, while they could be controversial, wouldn’t be really divisive.”
Throughout her career, DuVernay has shattered barriers. At the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, she became the first African-American woman to win a directing award in the U.S. dramatic competition for her film Middle of Nowhere.
One of DuVernay’s most notable works is Selma, a historical drama of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s campaign to secure equal voting rights. The movie was nominated for Best Picture and won Best Original Song at the Academy Awards in 2015.
Most recently, DuVernay has directed A Wrinkle in Time — a film where she made history yet again, as she became the first African-American woman to direct a live-action film with a budget exceeding $100 million.
For her documentary 13th, DuVernay became the first African-American woman to be nominated as a director by the Oscars in a feature category.
Gorman said DuVernay was chosen for being accomplished and for being a “timeless person” that represents diversity.
“She’s amazing, [has] created really inspiring, thoughtful work that changes the way people think about race in America. We felt like she was really hitting on this cultural moment,” Gorman said, referring to the Time’s Up movement that has swept Hollywood.
“For me personally, I really wanted to see a female speaker, but it was more about bringing someone who represents more diversity in a lot of different ways, so not just gender or race or class, but in their work, their viewpoints, their creativity,” Gorman went on to say.
DuVernay is at the forefront of an effort to introduce more people of color to film and TV. In fact, in The New York Times, film critic Manohla Dargis proposed “the DuVernay test,” which, similar the Bechdel test for women, would measure whether “African-Americans and other minorities have fully realized lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories.”
Gorman said DuVernay will be someone “very inspiring years from now” and is “such a good fit for our university.”
“We wanted someone who speaks to the future of Cornell, and not necessarily the past,” Gorman said.