What do you do with wild commercial success? If you're Ava DuVernay, you pass it on.
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UCLA Optimists

In 2010, director Ava DuVernay was not the Golden Globe-nominated success that she is today.

In fact, she had just finished her first narrative film, called "I Will Follow."

DuVernay on the red carpet at the 2017 Oscars. Photo via Tyler Golden/Disney | ABC Television Group/Flickr.


Inspired by DuVernay's own life experiences, the film tells the story of a young artist who moves in with her eccentric, ailing aunt and is then forced to contend with her death.

It was a labor of love for a filmmaker who had, until then, only worked in journalism or on documentary projects. After studying English and African American studies at UCLA, DuVernay made the film in between working in public relations in the film industry. Made on limited time and a limited budget — just $50,000 and 15 days — it was spectacular.

The only problem: DuVernay couldn’t find anyone to release it.

A still from the trailer for "I Will Follow."

She spent months pitching her film to production studios, meeting with distribution companies, and contacting representation. But no one believed the film could be commercially successful.

Like many women of color, she finally decided that if no one would give her the opportunity she needed, she would create that opportunity herself.

Since she couldn't get anyone to market her movie, she founded a distribution collective of her own: the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, or AFFRM.

With a team of just three people, DuVernay took on the project of distributing her film herself. She created marketing materials, launched a social media campaign, recruited volunteer photographers and videographers, and formed partnerships with theaters and small film collectives willing to give "I Will Follow" a screening.

A movie poster for a screening of "I Will Follow" in New York City.

Finally, in 2011, "I Will Follow" was released, and was met with rave reviews from audiences and critics alike.

Roger Ebert called it a "wonderful independent film." Though it never received a massive audience, it resonated with the people who saw it, and ultimately, it launched DuVernay’s career.

Just three years later, she was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director on the 2014 film "Selma."

DuVernay with stars Colman Domingo (left) and David Oyelowo at a screening of "Selma" in Berlin. Photo via U.S. Embassy/Flickr.

Now, DuVernay no longer needs a grassroots effort to bring attention to her projects.

But rather than walking away from the collection she founded, she's repurposed it to help other budding filmmakers like herself find their first steps toward success.

DuVernay accepts a Peabody Award for her film "13th." Photo by Stephanie Moreno/Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications for Peabody Awards/Flickr.

"Ava really felt that there was a wider need for filmmakers of multiple ethnicities that didn’t have distribution options available for their works to be seen by larger audiences," says Mercedes Cooper, director of marketing for the film collective.

It's DuVernay's philosophy that she should use her success to bring others into the industry.  She calls it "lifting while she climbs" — in other words, using every possible opportunity to pass her success onto others.

"Ava often says that she doesn’t want to be alone in the room," Cooper says. "She doesn’t want to be the only person of color in the room. She doesn’t want to be the only woman in the room."

That's why DuVernay expanded the focus of her company, now called Array, to seek out talent and invite them into the room with her.  

"If you’re a person in the room that has an opportunity to let someone else in," Cooper says, "then it’s kind of important to do so."

Array works to identify independent films made by women and filmmakers of color, then acquires them and uses its resources to find places for those films to be seen.

An audience awaits a screening of Ousmane Sembène's "Black Girl," an independent film distributed by Array. Photo via Array/Twitter.

Today, Array has launched dozens of films, and, along with them, the careers of dozens of filmmakers who may never have gotten started without DuVernay's help. And it is always adding more films to its roster.

By distributing films, Array shines a light not just on the work, but on the directors and their lives.

Consider, for example, Array's recent release by up-and-coming filmmaker Heidi Saman.

"In March we released a film called 'Namour' from an Egyptian-American filmmaker. We don't get to see Egyptian-American families portrayed very much on U.S. screens," Cooper says.

A still from "Namour," a film about a Los Angeles valet caught between the pressures of his job and of his Arab-American immigrant family. Photo via Array.

The film follows a Los Angeles postgrad struggling with common problems — motivation, his career, his relationships, and his future — but also showcases the added dynamic of what it's like to come from an Arab-American immigrant family.

"Everybody wants to see someone that looks like them, that has the same experiences," Cooper says. "To have that reflected on screen just makes you feel even more a part of this world."

And now, more people have the opportunity to see themselves on-screen: "Namour," along with a handful of other films distributed by Array, are now available on Netflix.

Photo via Array.

Ultimately, Array's goal is to expand people's perspectives by exposing them to works by people who are different from them.

"Take a chance," she says. "Hit that 'play' button on something small that you've never heard about, that may not have people in it that look like you."

Either way, you'll learn something new about someone who's different from you. But there's also a chance that you'll discover the first title from the next Ava DuVernay.

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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