If you are invited to lunch at Oprah Winfrey’s home, don’t bring flowers.
That is what producer, writer and director Ava DuVernay learned when she got an unexpected invitation to a Mother’s Day brunch at Winfrey’s home, which she attended with her grandmother. The pair recalled the luncheon during a conversation moderated by director Bruce Cohen at the Produced By conference on Saturday.
Winfrey had learned about DuVernay—who in 2012 had directed only one feature, Middle Of Nowhere—from British actor David Oyelowo, on the set of Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
She watched a DVD of the low-budget movie and loved what she saw. She called Oyelowo and told him she and DuVernay were going to be friends.
“’I don’t have a lot of friends but I’m going to be friends with her,’” she remembered telling him. “I ended up having a big luncheon at my house just so I could invite her.”
DuVernay bought the most expensive flowers she had ever purchased for Winfrey, her idol in life and show business.
“She was so gracious,” recalled DuVernay, “but as she put [the flowers] down, I saw out the window acres of flowers in the ground.”
Interjected Winfrey, “So when you get invited to lunch, don’t bring me flowers.”
What DuVernay offered was much more valuable to Winfrey. “I knew this was the kind of person I wanted to collaborate with,” she said.
In 2014, Winfrey came aboard as a producer and actor on Selma, which DuVernay was directing.
“I remember it was 100 degrees,” Winfrey recalled about making Selma. “She is masterful in her control of the set and respected. The respect goes both ways so the crew is willing to do whatever they can for her, because she’s willing to do the same.”
It was around the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. Winfrey told DuVernay she wanted their series to show what it really was like to be a “committed activist behind the scenes and trying to live a life that really matters.”
Winfrey and DuVernay insisted much of the crew and all of the episodic directors be women and people of color, many of whom hadn’t worked in TV before.
The show has won critical praise and DuVernay has gone on to direct A Wrinkle In Time for Disney, making her the first African-American woman to helm a movie with a budget over $100 million.
It isn’t a surprise to Winfrey, who credits DuVernay with the first series for OWN that fulfills her dream for what she wants her network to be.
“Ava is the throbbing heartbeat of the network because [Queen Sugar] represents everything I want to say about what it means to be human, to be connected, to be a family members.
“I said after she created the series,” added Winfrey with a laugh, “you never have to bring me another present – ever.”