What do Emmy Rossum, Kristin Chenoweth, Instagram star Sydney Kaiser, Trisha Yearwood, Lucky editor-in-chief Eva Chen and director Ava DuVernay have in common? They’ve each been named a Shero by Mattel, and are being honored for their extraordinary accomplishments in entertainment with an awards ceremony Friday.
As one of the six women honored during Mattel’s first annual Shero campaign, DuVernay, 42, will be commended during Variety’s Power of Women luncheon in New York City on April 24. The Selma director—who founded the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement in 2011 with the intent of providing opportunities for diverse filmmakers—will also be presented with a custom-made Barbie doll made in her likeness (with locs!), which DuVernay will auction after the ceremony to benefit charity.
“I love that the doll is supposed to have locs like my own,” DuVernay tells EW via email. “I was a big Barbie girl when I was young. My sisters, Jina and Tera, and I would play for hours making up stories and scenarios. We couldn’t afford all the Barbie furniture and cars, so our Barbies drove around in our skates! And we’d cut socks and put a rubber band around the waist and make their dresses. We cut their hair. We put eye shadow on them with a ballpoint pen! It sounds ratchet, but we thought our Barbies were fly back then! So it’s real cool to now have a Barbie in my own image. I never imagined that. …It’s lovely to be honored, especially with a beautiful, Black, filmmakin’ Barbie with locs!”
In the months after Selma’s theatrical release, the Golden Globe-nominated director has has kept busy with small screen projects. She directed a third season episode of ABC’s Scandal and is behind an upcoming TV series for OWN titled Queen Sugar. She’s also been tapped to direct CBS’ For Justice pilot, a murder mystery based on James Patterson’s The Thomas Berryman Number.
“It’s no more or less welcoming than film,” DuVernay says about taking her talents to television. “It’s simply that I don’t intend to regulate my storytelling to any particular form. So, television was something I wanted to explore and I’m enjoying that exploration.”
DuVernay—who says she counts a film “that takes place in the far future” a high priority on her directorial bucket list—says she’s has also spent time actively seeking out other women in Hollywood in her efforts to build a meaningful career following Selma.
“Creatively, there are many black women filmmakers to follow—Julie Dash, Euzhan Palcy, Neema Barnette, Kasi Lemmons, Ayoka Chenzira, Kathleen Collins, Cheryl Dunye, just to name a few,” she says. But does DuVernay still feel, as she told EW in December, that she has to “follow my own footsteps because there is no black woman’s footsteps to follow?”
“I’m not on my own,” DuVernay notes. “But professionally, there are less who have made a certain number of films and a certain size of film and a certain type of film that I can directly follow their footsteps in the industry. … I have many women I look to for guidance, from Oprah Winfrey to Debbie Allen, who I glean information and advice from regularly.”
The desire to build solidarity among like-minded peers in Hollywood has fueled her work as an outspoken advocate on behalf of women and people of color in the arts. She recently discussed her efforts using film as a form of activism with actress Meryl Streep and documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy at Tina Brown’s annual Women in the World summit, and continues to call attention to the need for diverse stories in filmmaking.
“The state of women storytellers in Hollywood is vibrant, lush, and wildly creative,” DuVernay emphasizes. “The state of amplification of our stories, however, is dire.”
With DuVernay, however, that might change. After all, girls and women of all ages can look up to her as a remarkable role model—their very own Shero.