#Blogher15 welcomed Selma Director, Ava DuVernay to close the conference with an interview conducted by Melissa Silverstein. During the span of the interview, right after Silverstein told Ava she was articulate, Silverstein asked DuVernay about her leadership in the Black community. I watched Ava shift in her seat and stammer a bit at the question. “Leader?”
The question (along with a white woman calling a Black woman “articulate”) is proof of something Silverstein doesn’t understand about the Black community. Ava DuVernay is not a leader. Ava is an artist, yes. Ava’s art is leading a conversation, yes. But Ava is not a leader. She is something else altogether.
Do you remember Inception? It was that goddamn awful movie that everyone wanted to debate what the actual premise was about. It had vivid imagery and the scenes were so creative, but the entrainment value was ruined for me when the eleventy hundred multipoint-analytical-paper-on-Inception-versus-reality hit the internet. I have no shits to give, because Science Fiction, y’all. I enjoy Science Fiction, I just don’t feel whipped into a frenzy that requires a treatise on a character’s moral development.
In Inception the characters each carry a personalized Totem. At one point Arthur has an exchange with another character,
I can’t let you touch it, that would defeat the purpose. See only I know the balance and the weight of this particular loaded die. That way, when you look at your totem, you know beyond a doubt that you’re not in someone else’s dream.
A Totem, as I understand it helped the character orient themselves to reality. It functioned as a test, but it also functioned as a symbol. Ariadne explains the totem,
An elegant solution for keeping track of reality.
Black people know the balance and weight of particular experiences. We know, when we experience these things, that we are beyond a doubt not in someone else’s dream. These same totems allow us to see when we’ve also been hijacked. What we thought was real was actually counterfeit. Ava DuVernay is not a leader she is a totem. Her life works become totems that so many Black women and men can hold in our hands, test the weight, and use the experience to orient ourselves to reality. She shows us what it is like to be present in our own dreams. Silverstein wouldn’t understand that, so it makes sense that her question didn’t land well.
In order to protect its integrity, only the totem’s owner should ever handle it. In that way, the owner is able to tell whether or not they are in someone else’s dream. In the owner’s own dream world, the totem will feel correct.
As a Black woman I often feel like I live in the dreams of another. I feel like I have to adopt someone else’s ways, language, and look to just be okay in my world. Even then, I am not always safe.
Ava doesn’t know what she has done for me. She doesn’t know what she has done for so many. She is an artist learning to be true to herself and in the process has become a symbol of what we can be when we live in our own dreams. Ava DuVernay is my totem.