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Director DuVernay talks ‘Selma’ in Somerville

Ava DeVernay was in Somerville for a screening of her film “Selma” on Monday.photos by Sean Proctor/Globe Staff

“Selma” director Ava DuVernay’s reaction to not receiving an Academy Award nomination? So what. Speaking to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. following a screening of “Selma” in Somerville Monday, DuVernay said an Oscar nomination would, of course, have been welcome, but it’s hardly the reason she made the movie.

“I wasn’t really tripping on what everybody else was up in arms about,” said DuVernay, who could have been the first female African-American director nominated for an Academy Award. “It’s like a sundae. It’s still good without the cherry on top. Really, I’m much more fine with it than Twitter [was].” (“Selma” did receive nominations for best picture and best original song.)


Interestingly, DuVernay was more animated when talking about complaints that her film unfairly portrays President Lyndon Johnson as obstructionist on the issue of black voting rights. “It’s not just folks stating an opinion,” the director said of the complaints. “It’s an attack. It’s coming with a tinge of ‘How dare.’ ” It could be, she said, that some white moviegoers are just uncomfortable with “people of color being the center of their own story.”

DuVernay said she also finds it curious that no one has complained that the characters in “Unbroken,” “The Imitation Game,” or “American Sniper” lack nuance.

“You can’t get every bit of human life distilled in two hours,” she said. “[The movie’s] done, it’s in the world, you’re gonna have to deal with it.”

The audience at Monday’s screening, sponsored by the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, gave DuVernay a standing ovation after the film. The director confessed that she isn’t, or at least wasn’t, a big fan of historical dramas, calling most of them “snoozefests” with a “patina of decency.” But, she said, she tried to make “Selma” feel “full-bodied, not dead on the page.”


Judging by the crowd’s reaction, DuVernay succeeded.