Ava DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey and Van Jones talked about the prison system and, tangentially, Donald Trump, in a discussion hosted by Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos at his large home in Los Angeles.
Guests at the exclusive event in honor of DuVernay’s Netflix masterfully executed documentary 13th included Courtney B. Vance, Chelsea Handler and Quincy Jones, The Chicago Tribune reports. Oprah moderated the conversation, which at several points turned to Trump’s impending presidency and those who voted for him. Via Tribune:
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.”
DuVernay added, “I’m challenged by the idea that we are not holding people accountable for their votes.”
Van Jones, who appears in 13th as a commentator, has expressed this idea before of engaging with Trump supporters (and ultimately, bigotry). It’s a prominent view, which Kara argued against in her smart piece about love and racism. DuVernay’s similar thoughts—about the burden of having to explain the basics of humanity and argue with oppressors—echo the legend Toni Morrison’s perspective on the distractive nature of racism, as stated in her 1975 lecture in Portland.
“The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being,” said Morrison. “Somebody says you have no language, so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Someone says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.” Though at many points people are compelled to do it anyway, that sort of weary engagement often turns out to be an endless loop devoid of progress and, as DuVernay said, it’s a struggle to find time for that.