Ava DuVernay Biography

Ava DuVernay photo

Born: August 24, 1972

Ava DuVernay

Date of Birth: August 24, 1972

Screenwriter and director Ava DuVernay, the oldest of five children, was born in Long Beach, California to mother Darlene Maye, a teacher, and father Murray Maye, the owner of a carpeting business.

Ava went to Saint Joseph High School in Lakewood, California. She then doubled majored in African American studies and English at UCLA and later graduated with a bachelor of arts.

Directing wasn't Ava's first passion. She became interested in broadcast journalism while at UCLA and interned at CBS News, where she was assigned to help cover the O.J. Simpson murder trial. After this, she left journalism and changed her focus to publicity. Following graduation, she worked as a publicist at various public relations firms before forming her own agency in 1999. The DuVernay Agency (later known as DVA Media + Marketing) provided award-winning PR services for over 100 high-profile film and television projects.

A decade after settling into public relations, Ava made her final career change into directing. She made her directorial debut in 2008 with the documentary This in the Life, a exploration of a local Los Angeles hotspot called Good Life Cafe, and its role in developing the alternative hip hop movement in the early '90s. This was followed by a series of television documentaries, including My Mic Sounds Nice (2010).

Ava then made her first narrative feature film in 2010, called I Will Follow, which earned her an African-American Film Critics Association award for Best Screenplay.

Ava is the first African American woman to win the Best Director Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, which she won for her second feature film, Middle of Nowhere (2011).

In 2013, ESPN commissioned Ava to produce and direct Venus Vs., a documentary on tennis superstar Venus Williams. She also directed an episode of the political drama Scandal.

What came next for Ava was her breakthrough film, the Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic Selma. Ava said it was her summers in her father's hometown of Hayneville, Alabama, a small town between Montgomery and Selma, that influenced the making of the movie. Selma was a financial and critical success, earning a Best Picture Oscar nomination and a win for Best Original Song. However, there was major backlash regarding her omission from the Best Director nominees list and this sparked a conversation regarding racial diversity within the Academy.

The talented director's upcoming projects include the television series Queen Drama, the feature film Part of the Sky, and an untitled mystery romance exploring the social and environment ramifications of Hurricane Katrina, with the participation of Selma star David Oyelowo.

Ava is a vocal advocate for the advancement of African Americans in the creative arts. She is the founder of ARRAY, a community-based distribution collective dedicated to increasing mainstream exposure to films by women and people of color.

Ava is also on the board of both Film Independent and the Sundance Institute. She currently resides in Los Angeles.


Part of the Sky (2016)
Selma (2014)
Middle of Nowhere (2013)
I Will Follow (2010)
This Is the Life (2008)
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