Ava DuVernay and Her Cast of Culture-Shifters for Harper’s Bazaar Magazine

Posted on August 27, 2020

Award-winning director Ava DuVernay selected eight change-makers who are reshaping the way we think about art, identity, and progress. The portfolio features Dr. Melina Abdullah, Lauren Ridloff, Grace Lee, Sharon Lawrence, Patricia Riggen, Nina Shaw, Sydney Freeland and Preeti Mistry.




Dr. Melina Abdullah
Professor & Activist

Ava DuVernay on Dr. Melina Abdullah: “Dr. Melina Abdullah is one of the preeminent activists in the Black Lives Matter movement. I knew her before then as an academic who was deeply entrenched in knowledge sharing around African and African-American culture, and politics and Black liberation theory.”

Dr. Abdullah on why she chose to pursue social justice: “I remember my mom, who was an elementary school teacher, hitting the block in our old Volvo station wagon, and all the kids in our East Oakland neighborhood would hear our car hit the corner, and they would come running to our porch and yell, ‘Time for school.’ My mom would sit out there for hours after having already done many hours as a teacher. She would then teach all the kids in the neighborhood to read. And I learned from her that that’s what our lives are meant for, to be of service and to uplift our communities.”




Lauren Ridloff

AD on Lauren Ridloff: “So often in my life, I come at things as a person who is not privileged—as a woman in an all-male industry, as a Black woman in a white industry. But when I’m speaking with Lauren, the world privileges me, not her.”

Ridloff on transitioning from teaching to acting: “Most of my students were not deaf. For almost 10 years, I taught hearing children how to read, how to write, how to count, and, most importantly, how to be with people who are different. When I started working on Broadway, I was unsure if I wanted to pursue acting until I saw all the seats in the theater and the fans by the stage door. I realized that my classroom had just gotten a lot bigger. I was influencing more people this way.”




Grace Lee

AD on Grace Lee: “I recently produced a piece she co-directed [with Marjan Safinia] for PBS called And She Could Be Next. This is all about women who are running for public office. It’s a fascinating doc series, but I’ve known her as a peer, as a filmmaker in the doc space for about a decade. She is just very community – minded and a beautiful filmmaker people should know.”

Lee on how she got into directing to make the kind of work she never had an opportunity to see growing up in Columbia, Missouri, as the child of Korean immigrants: “Stories that spoke to my multiple identities as a woman, a daughter of immigrants, a Midwesterner, an American, an Asian-American, and an artist, stories that also defy all expectations of what these identities are supposed to be. I hope that when people see the work that they can recognize themselves, that they can see that they will step into their own power.”



Sharon Lawrence
Actor & Activist
AD on Sharon Lawrence: “I worked with Sharon Lawrence on one of my first films. She was the first person I saw who was working in the industry as a creative and also equally working as an activist on the causes that were important to her.”

Lawrence on her organization Heal the Bay: “Our motto is, ‘Protect what you love.’ We believe that through all of these education programs and teacher trainings, we will indeed teach young people to love the ocean and want to protect it. And we also work with environmental justice groups to take care of the issues that plague their communities, most specifically in underserved neighborhoods— the particulate matter in port areas, the air quality, and making sure that the watershed is protected and clean.”




Patricia Riggen
AD on Patricia Riggen: “Patricia Riggen is a Latinx filmmaker who has made beautiful work and transitioned from film into TV as she found opportunity there, as many of us have. I had the pleasure of sitting on a couple of boards for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and that’s how I really got to know her. She is a force.”

Riggen on representation: “I wanted people to see Mexicans and immigrants in a new light. I wanted people to see them for who they really are, which is beautiful, positive people, with values, with a heart. I think Hollywood is responsible in many ways for how my community, the Latinx community, is perceived in this country. I want to change that. I want to communicate through my movies who we really are. That’s why representation matters. That’s why voices like mine and of many other women of color are important.”




Nina Shaw

AD on Nina Shaw: “Nina Shaw is a very close friend of mine, my mentor in the entertainment industry. I would not know how to move and survive in the space if it weren’t for her. Being a Black woman who was in the industry decades before me, alone in rooms where she was the only woman and the only Black person for tens and tens of years. And how she took that as a foundation, and instead of retreating, really stepped up to the plate and made a way for others like her.”

Shaw on advocating for equity in the workplace: “So much of what I do is about supporting artists and their work. I’ve also been so fortunate that in my work as a lawyer, in a field that hasn’t always had a lot of women and certainly not always a lot of African-American women, that in being one of the first and someone who has forged a path, I’ve made it clear that this is something that is obtainable.”




Sydney Freeland
Writer & Director


AD on Freeland: “Sydney Freeland is an incredible writer and director. I think I’m a unicorn as a Black woman director, but try being a transgender Native American woman director. She has had so much stacked against her, and she walks right over it.”

Freeland on drawing from her upbringing on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico for her debut feature, 2014’s “Drunktown’s Finest”: “Growing up, I never saw the people in places that I knew represented on film. Everybody’s portrayed as caricatures and cutouts and stereotypes. And to me, where I grew up is this rich, diverse, complex place with all of these different dynamics at play, and nobody is just one thing,” she continues. “If I can show the humanity in someone like a Native American trans woman, and somebody who’s not necessarily from that community can relate to them, then I’ve done my job.”




Preeti Mistry
AD on Preeti Mistry: “When Preeti walks into a room, you just turn and say, ‘Who’s that?’”

Mistry on her approach to food: “To me, food is about nourishing the people around you and bringing people together. A really pivotal moment for me in my career was 2013, when the Black Lives Matter movement started. I had just opened my first restaurant, and I also spent most of my college years going to a school that emphasized social justice. I realized at that moment that I could use my platform as a restaurant owner and business leader to amplify this message. That has become very important to me, that I use my voice and my platform always to amplify other people’s messages.”




[Photo Credit: Shaniqwa Jarvis/Harper’s Bazaar Magazine]

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