But because Oprah Winfrey asked about it, the filmmaker opened up: Trump “represents violence,” DuVernay said, and she doesn’t have much empathy for those who supported him.
She made the remarks Sunday during a discussion about “13th,” her documentary about the prison industrial complex and the disproportionately high number of black men behind bars.
Winfrey moderated an hourlong conversation between DuVernay and political commentator Van Jones at the home of Netflix chief Ted Sarandos, who hosted the event with wife Nicole Avant under two tennis-court-sized tents in their backyard.
Guests at the invitation-only affair were mostly industry insiders, including Quincy Jones, Rob Reiner, Laura Dern, Mira Sorvino, Courtney B. Vance and Chelsea Handler. Winfrey was a winning moderator, quipping to the crowd but mostly quiet, keeping the spotlight on her subjects.
A few moments recalled her old talk show.
The first thing she did was move her chair closer to DuVernay and Jones. In a long slate dress and black stilettos, Winfrey scooted the rattan seat over herself. Sarandos quietly hustled onto the stage to move a small coffee table that was in her way. Later, when the conversation about Trump got particularly animated, Winfrey deadpanned to the audience: “We should be televising this.”
Footage from Trump’s campaign rallies appears in “13th,” which connects the criminalization and jailing of black men in jail to a provision of the 13th Amendment that prohibits slavery except as a punishment for crime. Available now on Netflix, the film is among 15 documentaries shortlisted for Oscar nominations, which will be announced Jan. 24.
DuVernay said she feared the police as a child growing up in Compton, California. As a student at UCLA, she studied American history, justice and institutionalized racism.
In researching the documentary, DuVernay said she was most surprised to learn about the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that proposes policies and legislation based on the corporate interests it represents.
The film also shows how political rhetoric about being “tough on crime” has historically translated to more policing in communities of color.
Jones, who also appears in “13th,” said, “You can’t talk about the history of black America without talking about mass incarceration.”
DuVernay and Jones agree that the recent police shootings of black men are part of a long history of criminalization of black people by politicians and police. They also agree that the prison problem isn’t quickly or easily solved.
“It’s not a one-answer question,” DuVernay said, adding that she doesn’t expect the issue to be remedied during her lifetime.
But she and Jones disagree on the best approach for dealing with the impending Trump administration.
Jones said he wants to connect with Trump voters who find the president-elect distasteful but supported him because they felt overlooked by other candidates.
DuVernay said she has no time for that. Racism and sexism are distractions, she said, “to my humanity and what I’m doing.”
“Distraction is if I stop and try to talk to folks who have clearly demonstrated that they’re not open to hearing that,” she said. “What they will hear is what I do: How I move forward, the art that I make, the energy that I put out into the world.”