Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of Middle Of Nowhere
Ava DuVernay’s second feature film, Middle of Nowhere, earned her the best director award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. She was the first Black female director to receive the auspicious award. The film stars Emayatzy Corinealdi as Ruby, a woman finding her way while her husband serves an eight-year prison sentence. Omari Hardwick plays her husband, Derek, David Oyelowo is Brian, Lorraine Toussaint acts as her mother Ruth, and Edwina Findley Dickerson plays her sister, Rosie. Read on for secrets behind the making of DuVernay’s critically-acclaimed film, Middle of Nowhere, released via her African American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM), now known as ARRAY, and Participant Media.
Ruby’s mother, Ruth, was played by none other than actress Lorraine Toussaint. Here’s what Ava DuVernay told NPR about the importance of that character: “I wanted to talk about the black mother because African-American mothers are portrayed in cinema and in television in very limited ways — either the supercomforting, perfect mother or the just harsh, unreasonable, just no room to breath. And with this character, I really wanted to get into the nuances of what her relationship with her daughters actually is and where her feelings about them come from. And it really comes from a place of high expectation, disappointment and just this inarticulate pushing to do better, to be better. And I see a lot of that in our communities — just this hope, this real striving to create a better life for our children.”
DuVernay interviewed women whose partners were incarcerated. In so doing, she discovered that most of the women made a decision to stay in their relationship and never felt like they simply had to go along with things.
DuVernay was a publicist for Michael Mann’s film Collateral. Being on the set of that L.A.-based film, which was shot in a lot of Black and brown communities, helped birth Middle of Nowhere. DuVernay realized that she had a story to tell on those same streets, and that her story would look markedly different. She began writing the script at nights and on weekends while working on the film.
Complexity of Black Women
Ava also made this film because she wanted to show “a black woman who loves fully and isn’t just one thing, as we see so often in the media. All black women aren’t sassy, loud, difficult or subservient. We are in fact very complex and very diverse, living very complex and diverse lives.”
Budget and Shoot Dates
Middle of Nowhere was shot in only 19 days and made for roughly $200,000.
Scenes in Ruby’s home were shot in a Spanish mission-style duplex on East 91st Street in L.A. DuVernay expressly chose that area because it reminded her of the home she grew up in and because it contrasted the image of what people typically think Compton and South Central look like.
Emayatzy Corinealdi initially auditioned for the role of Rosie, Ruby’s sister. But after meeting her, the casting director thought that Corinealdi should return and read for the lead role of Ruby. Upon returning to audition for the lead, that’s when the actress and DuVernay met for the first time.
From the jump, DuVernay had David Oyelowo in mind for her film, but she didn’t think she could get him attached. Little did she know that she wouldn’t even have to reach out to him. While on a plane ride from L.A. to Toronto, the actor befriended a man who mentioned his potential investment in a Black independent film. Oyelowo had just seen DuVernay on CNN and asked if she was the director behind said film. The man wasn’t sure so he emailed his friend and Middle of Nowhere producer Howard Barish while on the plane. Barish sent him the script and Oyelowo read it on the plane. The next day, Oyelowo called DuVernay. Within a week, he was attached to play Brian.
Gina Prince-Bythewood and husband Reggie Rock Bythewood were good friends and clients of DuVernay’s. They loved her Middle of Nowhere script and wanted to produce the film. Together, they attached Sanaa Lathan and Idris Elba to star and shopped the project around to numerous studios. Though many of the studios liked the script, they simply lacked the vision to see the project through. In other, words, they didn’t know what to do with an independent Black film about a Black woman on a very interior journey. That’s when DuVernay realized that she had to make things happen herself.
Since her technical knowledge was limited at the time, DuVernay described the images she wanted cinematographer Bradford Young to capture in terms of colors and feelings.
If you’ve never read a film script, now’s your chance. You can actually download Middle of Nowhere here.