Venice Film Festival: Five Women To Play In Competition; Ava DuVernay Makes History As First African American Woman In Selection

The Venice Film Festival revealed the lineup for its 80th edition Tuesday morning, and its Official Competition featured works by five women filmmakers, including Ava DuVernay, who makes history as the first African American woman in selection.

The selected films and filmmakers are Priscilla (Sofia Coppola), Origin (Ava DuVernay), The Green Border (Agnieszka Holland), Woman Of (Malgorzata Szumowska, Michal Englert), and Holly (Fien Troch).

There are 23 films in Competition overall, meaning the fest falls far below any sort of gender parity mark. The festival said 32% of submissions this year were from women filmmakers. Nonetheless, DuVernay’s Origin will mark a significant landmark for Venice as the first film by an African American woman to play in Competition.

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The pic, directed by DuVernay from a screenplay she co-wrote with Isabel Wilkerson, is an adaptation of Wilkerson’s seminal, Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. The text carries a strong philosophical weight as it describes racism in the United States as an aspect of a rigid caste system of arbitrary hierarchies that stratify society and still divide us today. The film stars Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Niecy Nash-Betts, Audra McDonald, Nick Offerman, Connie Nielsen.

Actor-filmmaker Regina King was the first ever African American woman to play Venice in 2020 with her well-received biopic One Night in Miami. However, the pic played Out of Competition before landing three Oscar noms, including Best Adapted Screenplay for Kemp Powers. Black male filmmakers and artists such as Steve McQueen, Isaac Julien, John Akomfrah, Spike Lee, and Ousmane Sembène have featured more frequently at Venice as part of the film festival and wider Biennale.

DuVernay’s last feature project was Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time, starring Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, and Reese Witherspoon. Other DuVernay directorial credits include Netflix’s 13th and MLK-biopic Selma. The California native is an infrequent fixture on the festival circuit. In 2012, she became the first black woman to win Sundance’s dramatic competition with her second feature Middle of Nowhere, and in 2018 she served on the Cannes Competition jury.

This year Venice runs Aug 30 — Sep 9.

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