'One day, my daughter hit me and was like, "You know if Ava is Malcolm X, you Martin Luther King."'

By Christopher Rosen
April 24, 2017 at 07:59 AM EDT
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Credit: Carolyn Amuaro for Street Dreams

Common and Ava DuVernay have forged a strong working relationship over the last few years, collaborating together on Selma (which won Common an Oscar in the best original song category) as well as DuVernany’s recent documentary,
13th. But the bond they share extends beyond onscreen, as Common explained Sunday during the Tribeca Film Festival.

“One day my daughter hit me and was like ‘You know if Ava is Malcolm X, you Martin Luther King,'” Common said, explaining his daughter, who attends Howard University, was trying to say the actor and musician is “softer” than DuVernany “when it comes to the revolutionary aspect.”

“I was, like, embarrassed that she would say that about me,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I do feel like Ava does have an unapologetic and unashamedly Blackness about her and she embraces that and does it universally, but I was like, damn. I do that too. But I think I’m always talking about love and extending the hand of love and embracing people. I’ve learned to embrace people that may not think the way I think or may be on the opposite side when it comes to politics. They may be on the opposite side of many things but my first step is to do what our former First Lady says, ‘Go high when they go low.’ So that’s my mentality.”

But, he added, “my relationship with Ava is really inspiring. She’s like for me… through working with her and talking with her, I see somebody who is dedicated to putting black culture and black faces out in the world in the purest way. In a truthful way, in a way we don’t get to see all the time. … And to me, one of her biggest gifts is knowing how to put people together. Because I’ve met some of the most talented and some of my best friends in the industry are people that I’ve met working on projects with Ava.”

Common, who spoke onstage Sunday with author and journalist Nelson George, also touched on the current political climate and how it can affect the output of artists.

“Artists, when we have something we’re passionate about, we speak up,” he said. “It’s the truth that comes out at that time. But you have to be passionate about it. I think this era we’re in now is just as tough as the Reagan era in many instances, but the artists are speaking up. They feel it. They feel it in their spirits. I think the one thing we have in hip-hop that you had in that ’80s era is a lot of people were kind of educated politically to a certain degree; socially and politically so they knew what to talk about. I was learning about things from Chuck D and from KRS-One and I learned from them. They had something to say. They knew what was going on. I don’t know if it was age or whatever the case, but they knew. And even in this crucial era, I think that the music can be more powerful, the art can be more powerful when people are passionate about it and they really do care.”