Media mogul Oprah Winfrey and movie director Ava DuVernay shared their thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, telling the outlet that the movement is more than a “slogan and the hashtag and the protest” and that “inclusion” is a better barometer for racial progress in the entertainment industry than the often-used term “diversity.”
Winfrey and DuVernay sat down with THR for a joint interview to promote their new TV series Queen Sugar, a contemporary drama about a family of sugarcane farmers in Louisiana.
Asked if they feel obligated to incorporate Black Lives Matter themes into their new series, DuVernay said, “You see integration of Black Lives Matter from the beginning of [Queen Sugar] because it is literally black lives having meaning and mattering in the everyday.”
“With the Black Lives Matter movement, a lot of the focus is on the protest and dissent. I’m hoping to dismantle the public notion — for folks outside of the community — of what Black Lives Matter means,” the Selma director continued. “It’s really about saying that black lives matter, that humanity is the same when you go inside people’s homes.”
“Everybody gets caught up in the slogan and the hashtag and the protest. What we’re trying to do is get you to feel it,” added Winfrey, Queen Sugar co-creator. “You get to feel it when Ralph Angel [Kofi Siriboe] is putting his son to bed, laying with him and reading a story. Intimacy and connection between a father and son? We’ve just not seen it [with black characters on series TV].”
Winfrey’s Chicago-based television company Harpo Productions is producing the new drama, which DuVernay recently wrapped filming for the first 13 episodes.
The pair said they don’t think there are enough positive portrayals of black characters on TV and in film. And when those characters are cast, their roles are too often written by white writers.
“I believe there’s a special value in work that is a reflection of oneself as opposed to interpretation. When I see a film or a TV show about black people not written by someone who’s black, it’s an interpretation of that life,” DuVernay said.
“They render it through their lens, so you will see that scene, and it will be with white people,” DuVernay added. “All lives can’t matter to folks who are not us if you don’t know us, if you don’t understand [us]. I don’t make anything as education for anyone; I make it as a love letter to the characters: These are black people; this is a black family. It’s a window into that.”
The Oscar-nominated director continued: “The same way when I go see A Separation, an Iranian film about an Iranian family, or when I go to see a Korean film, it is a window into that world, and I see them, and I start to understand and value them. They begin to matter to me.”
When the conversation turned to their respective views on diversity in the entertainment industry, DuVernay said, “We aren’t sitting around talking about diversity, just like we aren’t sitting around talking about being black or being women. We’re just being that.”
Winfrey, who’s often supported the notion of diversity in the past, said “I will say that I stand corrected. I used to use the word “diversity” all the time. “We want more diverse stories, more diverse characters … Now I really eliminated it from my vocabulary because I’ve learned from her that the word that most articulates what we’re looking for is what we want to be: included.”
“It’s to have a seat at the table where the decisions are being made,” she added.
Queen Sugar premieres on September 6.
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