Ava DuVernay’s mass-incarceration documentary 13th was supposed to be the subject, but Donald Trump became topic A as several hundred hollywood insiders met to hear DuVernay, Van Jones and Oprah Winfrey confer at the Hancock Park home of Ted Sarandos, the Netflix chief content officer, and his wife, Nicole Avant, a former U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas, on Sunday night.
“I think mostly bad things,” said Jones when Winfrey kicked things off by asking what he expected of the next four years. Things continued in that vein for nearly an hour. An audience member suggested near the end that he would like to see CNN have a psychologist discuss “Trump’s insanity.” “I agree,” said Jones, an activist, author, and CNN commentator.
At one point Jones made an impassioned plea for conciliation with Trump voters. Many, he said, were “better” than Trump; he suggested outreach to white voters in the middle west who felt forgotten by liberals and conservatives alike. But DuVernay was having none of it. “I’m challenged by the idea that we are not holding people accountable for their votes,” she said.
13th wasn’t entirely forgotten. Winfrey, Jones, and DuVernay swapped thoughts about the movie’s message and what might be a next step for those who hope to reform what they see as a hopelessly broken justice system that is biased against African Americans. But the crowd rose mostly to the shots at Trump and other Republicans-and there were a lot of them.
At one point, Jones acknowledged that some are people are “so horrible” that they should be in prison. But, he added, “I don’t want spend my whole life talking about Dick Cheney.”
Winfrey mostly played the moderator, allowing DuVernay and Jones to carry the conversation. DuVernay was producer and director of 13th. And Jones was featured prominently in it. DuVernay for her part insisted repeatedly that she is too shaken by Trump’s election to adopt Jones’ plea for conciliation. She said, for the moment at least, she plans to focus on her work and the next steps in her own life. Jones said: “I don’t think I need to love the Trump voters to make them better. I think I need to love them to keep him from making them worse.”
13th is on the Oscar shortlist for feature documentaries, but nominations voting closed Friday and results won’t be announced until January 24. The film was nominated for a BAFTA Award, but was not included among the DGA and PGA documentary nominees; so Netflix, which billed Sunday’s gathering as a “celebration,” still can’t be sure whether it is celebrating Oscar prospects or simply a movie of which it is clearly proud.
Avant and Sarandos have both been contributors to Democratic political candidates. The two worked as bundlers for the Obama campaign, raising more than $500,000 for his 2012 run, and Avant was a Clinton and Democratic National Committee donor in 2016.