What do you do with wild commercial success? If you're Ava DuVernay, you pass it on.
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UCLA Optimists

In 2010, director Ava DuVernay was not the Golden Globe-nominated success that she is today.

In fact, she had just finished her first narrative film, called "I Will Follow."

DuVernay on the red carpet at the 2017 Oscars. Photo via Tyler Golden/Disney | ABC Television Group/Flickr.


Inspired by DuVernay's own life experiences, the film tells the story of a young artist who moves in with her eccentric, ailing aunt and is then forced to contend with her death.

It was a labor of love for a filmmaker who had, until then, only worked in journalism or on documentary projects. After studying English and African American studies at UCLA, DuVernay made the film in between working in public relations in the film industry. Made on limited time and a limited budget — just $50,000 and 15 days — it was spectacular.

The only problem: DuVernay couldn’t find anyone to release it.

A still from the trailer for "I Will Follow."

She spent months pitching her film to production studios, meeting with distribution companies, and contacting representation. But no one believed the film could be commercially successful.

Like many women of color, she finally decided that if no one would give her the opportunity she needed, she would create that opportunity herself.

Since she couldn't get anyone to market her movie, she founded a distribution collective of her own: the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, or AFFRM.

With a team of just three people, DuVernay took on the project of distributing her film herself. She created marketing materials, launched a social media campaign, recruited volunteer photographers and videographers, and formed partnerships with theaters and small film collectives willing to give "I Will Follow" a screening.

A movie poster for a screening of "I Will Follow" in New York City.

Finally, in 2011, "I Will Follow" was released, and was met with rave reviews from audiences and critics alike.

Roger Ebert called it a "wonderful independent film." Though it never received a massive audience, it resonated with the people who saw it, and ultimately, it launched DuVernay’s career.

Just three years later, she was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director on the 2014 film "Selma."

DuVernay with stars Colman Domingo (left) and David Oyelowo at a screening of "Selma" in Berlin. Photo via U.S. Embassy/Flickr.

Now, DuVernay no longer needs a grassroots effort to bring attention to her projects.

But rather than walking away from the collection she founded, she's repurposed it to help other budding filmmakers like herself find their first steps toward success.

DuVernay accepts a Peabody Award for her film "13th." Photo by Stephanie Moreno/Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications for Peabody Awards/Flickr.

"Ava really felt that there was a wider need for filmmakers of multiple ethnicities that didn’t have distribution options available for their works to be seen by larger audiences," says Mercedes Cooper, director of marketing for the film collective.

It's DuVernay's philosophy that she should use her success to bring others into the industry.  She calls it "lifting while she climbs" — in other words, using every possible opportunity to pass her success onto others.

"Ava often says that she doesn’t want to be alone in the room," Cooper says. "She doesn’t want to be the only person of color in the room. She doesn’t want to be the only woman in the room."

That's why DuVernay expanded the focus of her company, now called Array, to seek out talent and invite them into the room with her.  

"If you’re a person in the room that has an opportunity to let someone else in," Cooper says, "then it’s kind of important to do so."

Array works to identify independent films made by women and filmmakers of color, then acquires them and uses its resources to find places for those films to be seen.

An audience awaits a screening of Ousmane Sembène's "Black Girl," an independent film distributed by Array. Photo via Array/Twitter.

Today, Array has launched dozens of films, and, along with them, the careers of dozens of filmmakers who may never have gotten started without DuVernay's help. And it is always adding more films to its roster.

By distributing films, Array shines a light not just on the work, but on the directors and their lives.

Consider, for example, Array's recent release by up-and-coming filmmaker Heidi Saman.

"In March we released a film called 'Namour' from an Egyptian-American filmmaker. We don't get to see Egyptian-American families portrayed very much on U.S. screens," Cooper says.

A still from "Namour," a film about a Los Angeles valet caught between the pressures of his job and of his Arab-American immigrant family. Photo via Array.

The film follows a Los Angeles postgrad struggling with common problems — motivation, his career, his relationships, and his future — but also showcases the added dynamic of what it's like to come from an Arab-American immigrant family.

"Everybody wants to see someone that looks like them, that has the same experiences," Cooper says. "To have that reflected on screen just makes you feel even more a part of this world."

And now, more people have the opportunity to see themselves on-screen: "Namour," along with a handful of other films distributed by Array, are now available on Netflix.

Photo via Array.

Ultimately, Array's goal is to expand people's perspectives by exposing them to works by people who are different from them.

"Take a chance," she says. "Hit that 'play' button on something small that you've never heard about, that may not have people in it that look like you."

Either way, you'll learn something new about someone who's different from you. But there's also a chance that you'll discover the first title from the next Ava DuVernay.

Courtesy of Macy's

Brantley and his snowman

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"Would you like to build a snowman?" If you asked five-year-old Brantley from Texas this question, the answer would be a resounding "Yes!" While it may sound like a simple dream, since Texas doesn't usually see much snow, it seemed like a lofty one for him, even more so because Brantley has a congenital heart disease.

On Dec. 11, 2019, however, the real Macy's Santa and his two elves teamed up with Make-A-Wish to surprise Brantley and his family on his way to Colorado where there was plenty of snow for him to build his very own snowman, fulfilling his wish as part of the Macy's Believe campaign. After a joy-filled plane ride where every passenger got gift bags from Macy's, the family arrived in Breckenridge, Colorado where Santa and his elves helped Brantley build a snowman.

Brantley, Brantley's mom, and Santa marveling at their snowmanAll photos courtesy of Macy's

Brantley, who according to his mom had never actually seen snow, was blown away by the experience.

"Well, I had to build a snowman because snowmen are my favorite," Brantley said in an interview with Summit Daily. "All of it was my favorite part."

This is just one example of the more than 330,000 wishes the nonprofit Make-A-Wish have fulfilled to bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses since its founding 40 years ago. Even though many of the children that Make-A-Wish grants wishes for manage or overcome their illnesses, they often face months, if not years of doctor's visits, hospital stays and uncomfortable treatments. The nonprofit helps these children and their families replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy and anxiety with hope.

It's hardly an outlandish notion — research shows that a wish come true can help increase these children's resiliency and improve their quality of life. Brantley is a prime example.

"This couldn't have come at a better time because we see all the hardships that we went through last year," Brantley's mom Brandi told Summit Daily.

Brantley playing with snowballs

Now more than ever, kids with critical illnesses need hope. Since they're particularly vulnerable to disease, they and their families have had to isolate even more during the pandemic and avoid the people they love most and many of the activities that recharge them. That's why Make-A-Wish is doing everything it can to fulfill wishes in spite of the unprecedented obstacles.

That's where you come in. Macy's has raised over $132 million for Make-A-Wish, and helped grant more than 15,500 wishes since their partnership began in 2003, but they couldn't have done that without the support of everyday people. The crux of that support comes from Macy's Believe Campaign — the longstanding holiday fundraising effort where for every letter to Santa that's written online at Macys.com or dropped off safely at the red Believe mailbox at their stores, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. New this year, National Believe Day will be expanded to National Believe Week and will provide customers the opportunity to double their donations ($2 per letter, up to an additional $1 million) for a full week from Sunday, Nov. 29 through Saturday, Dec. 5.

There are more ways to support Make-A-Wish besides letter-writing too. If you purchase a $4 Believe bracelet, $2 of each bracelet will be donated to Make-A-Wish through Dec. 31. And for families who are all about the holiday PJs, on Giving Tuesday (Dec. 1), 20 percent of the purchase price of select family pajamas will benefit Make-A-Wish.

Elizabeth living out her wish of being a fashion designer

Additionally, this year's campaign features 6-year-old Elizabeth, a Make-A-Wish child diagnosed with leukemia, whose wish to design a dress recently came true. Thanks to the style experts at Macy's Fashion Office and I.N.C. International Concepts, only at Macy's, Elizabeth had the opportunity to design a colorful floral maxi dress. Elizabeth's exclusive design is now available online at Macys.com and in select Macy's stores. In the spirit of giving back this holiday season, 20 percent of the purchase price of Elizabeth's dress (through Dec. 31) will benefit Make-A-Wish.You can also donate directly to Make-A-Wish via Macy's website.

This holiday season may be a tough one this year, but you can bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses by delivering hope for their wishes to come true.

via 1POCNews / Twitter

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