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Filmmaker Ava DuVernay built a database she hopes will be obsolete in a decade

By Omar L. Gallaga
Special to the American-Statesman

Lest you think the director of “Selma,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” “When They See Us” and the upcoming DC Comics adaptation “The New Gods” doesn’t have enough on her plate, did you know she launched a nonprofit tech startup this year? (And it’s only March.)

In a SXSW Online chat Friday with the Black List founder and CEO Franklin Leonard, Ava DuVernay talked about ARRAY Crew, a new project launched in February that she said is “Basically IMDB meets LinkedIn” with an eye toward getting more diverse crew members hired for entertainment projects.

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay attends at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in February 2020 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

When the pre-recorded session was recorded a month ago, ARRAY already had 3,000 crew members signed up to use the free service in order to get hired by studios such as Netflix, Sony and Disney (“It will always be free” to crew, DuVernay said).

ARRAY has about 20 people working on it including a CTO who is “a badass sister we stole from Microsoft, a queer black woman who gets down in Atlanta,” DuVernay said of Dee Tuck. “The whole thing looks completely different than most tech company teams.”

ARRAY Crew is one way to counter imbalances in the systems, DuVernay said. She said that early in her career she fought hard against what she perceived as racism in the entertainment industry. Over time, she said, “I’ve come to the understanding it’s maybe ignorance and lack of understanding” on how to hire Black people and members of other underrepresented groups, which may require extra time and effort.

“Once I got past that, I thought, ‘There’s solutions for that!’” She said ARRAY Crew is a way to give studios and individuals tools to help fix imbalances in the system.

Her initial idea was just a list, “Maybe with a leather binder,” she joked, but it has evolved into a full-blown tech nonprofit connecting those who want to be hired with producers, casting agents and creators. Joining ARRAY Crew only requires participants to have only one industry credit, be 18 years or older, and be eligible to work in the U.S. DuVernay said expanding the service to countries such as England and Canada is in the works for later this year or early next year, if not sooner.

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She’s gotten feedback that some producers care less about the diversity aspect of ARRAY Crew than just finding workers. “This thing’s just good for hiring,” she said one producer told her. The website for ARRAY Crew has a proprietary user interface and will be available as an app before long.

Due to legal issues, producers and casting agents can’t search for members of specific underrepresented groups, but DuVernay promised that people who use the service will be pulling from a pool where “The majority of people in this database identify as these underrepresented categories.”

What’s the long-term goal? “The ultimate sign of success would be that in 10 years it’s not needed,” DuVernay said. “It’s so insane that it ever needs to exist. I don’t even want to normalize the need for it.

“True success would be that it’s obsolete.”