The Mogul for This Moment: Ava DuVernay Takes on the Central Park Five, Trump and Her Own Ambition

With her Netflix miniseries ‘When They See Us’ and a newly built downtown L.A. studio, the director is creating a modern Hollywood empire while tackling such complex issues as race, justice and that “rich, bloated, flamboyant guy” in the Oval Office:

I’m not going to knock on any closed doors. I’m going to make my own door.

Ava DuVernay is speed-walking through her offices at 5 p.m. on Good Friday, wearing a construction hat and sweatpants and pointing out a loose board to a staffer. “I worked so hard on this,” she says, gesturing to a once-leafy courtyard taken over by construction detritus. “Now it’s got port-a-potties on it. But anyway, you come back one day and it’ll be great.”

At 3 this morning, DuVernay turned in the final cut of her latest project as a director, the Netflix miniseries When They See Us, about the Central Park Five case that divided New York City in 1989 and sparked one of the first moments of racially charged political grandstanding by one Donald Trump. Now she’s turning her attention to construction on a 50-seat movie theater at her company, Array, a three-building campus housed in a former paint store in Historic Filipinotown near downtown L.A.

If she’s tired from the late-night cutting session, there’s no sign of it, as DuVernay bounds up the steps to her editing suites, pops in on her creative executives and pushes through the plastic construction sheeting walls of her future screening room.

When I come here, I’m walking through my own doors. I built my own door, I built it.

From an unassuming corner of Glendale Boulevard, across from an auto parts store and next to a Pentecostal Spanish-language church, DuVernay runs a company that now employs about 50 people at work on 14 TV shows in various states of production and development, as well as her independent film distribution arm, which has released 22 movies in theaters.

She bought the 14,000-square-foot property for $7.6 million in 2018 with her paycheck from directing Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, and she is in the midst of making the space her own. Decorated with reclaimed wood, succulent plants and colorful murals, DuVernay’s offices were inspired jointly by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot facilities in Santa Monica and by Ethiopian director Haile Gerima’s Washington, D.C., bookstore and cafe, Sankofa.

The Array Creative Campus, which includes her production company Array Filmworks, her nonprofit Array Alliance and her indie distribution arm Array Releasing, functions like a mini version of the Hollywood studios just a few freeway exits away — with a noteworthy difference: Almost everyone who works here is female and almost no one is white.

 

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