For Ava DuVernay, ‘Heart-Expanding’ Storytelling Matters More Than the Medium

The acclaimed writer, director and producer is our Game Changer of the Year

Ava DuVernay
Ava DuVernay's Netflix miniseries, When They See Us, was award-winning, critically acclaimed and important. Scott Witter
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Ava DuVernay, who topped Adweek’s Creative 100 List in 2018, has had another breakout year.

The acclaimed writer, director and producer in May released When They See Us, a four-part miniseries centered on the case of five black and Latino teenage boys who were wrongfully accused and convicted of rape in 1989. DuVernay’s goal with the project, as she previously told Adweek, was “to give those boys and their families a voice,” and her narrative focuses on the families of the boys over the course of several decades to track the effect of the wrongful convictions on their lives.

“This story is so much about humanity against systems, little black and brown boys against the halls of power and how they lost 25 years,” said DuVernay, Adweek’s Game Changer of the Year.

Her retelling was met with critical acclaim: The series was watched by more than 23 million accounts worldwide in the two months after its release, Netflix told DuVernay in September. The series received a record 16 Emmy nominations, and actor Jharrel Jerome took home the award for best lead actor in a limited series.

But breaking records for Netflix isn’t all DuVernay has been up to. She’s heading into a fifth season of Queen Sugar, a family drama set in Louisiana that airs on OWN, and she executive produced Red Line, a limited series about the aftermath of a white cop shooting an unarmed black man in Chicago, for CBS. If that isn’t enough, DuVernay is also spearheading the DC Comics film adaptation New Gods, and she is directing the pilot of another comics adaptation—DMZ—for HBO Max.

Streamers, premium cable, network TV—for DuVernay, the medium doesn’t matter as much as the message.

“It’s all storytelling,” she said. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to tell the story and make it as compelling, vibrant and heart expanding as possible.”

Check out all of this year’s honorees:

This story first appeared in the Oct. 21, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.