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Ava DuVernay teams up with Lenovo and the UN to 'empower empathy' and young women

Award winning filmmaker and director Ava DuVernay has teamed up with Lenovo and the United Nations' Girl Up to amplify the stories of 10 young women around the world in the new VR doc series "New Realities". Yahoo Finance's Jen Rogers speaks with DuVernay discussing the appeal of this project and why it's important to share stories that aren't often told.

Video Transcript

JEN ROGERS: Welcome back to "2020 A Time for Change." From "Selma" to "13th" to "When They See Us," Ava DuVernay has helped steer the national conversation around race with her work.

She's championing a new project, which will be released this Sunday for the UN's International Day of the Girl. It's 10 VR films on how girls are using technology around the world. It's called "New Realities." And when I interviewed her earlier, I began by asking why this project, given everything that's happening right now.

AVA DUVERNAY: I thought it was beautiful. And I thought the idea was beautiful, a Black woman-led narrative change collective, my group, partnering with the technology company, partnering with the UN initiative, all of us thinking about, how do we empower empathy? How do we actually not just talk about it but make it active?

And the idea of wanting to give girls from around the world young women from around the world the opportunity to tell stories about what they cared about where they were. And not just straight to camera. That literally you could look at their environment with this 360 immersive technology was a win-win-win when the idea was presented to me and, I said, I want to be a part of it.

But then the satisfying thing is to see it come to life and to see the girls where they were. And right now, what you call doomscrolling? I love that. I'm going to use that.

JEN ROGERS: I stole it.

AVA DUVERNAY: OK, I'm going to steal it too. Literally, you need to break that up. There's a constant cacophony of a certain kind of voice that's just overpowering us, the things that we need to talk about. And those are the nuanced things, reminding ourselves of the things that matter. And these young people matter. Where they are matter. What they think about, what they care about matters. And so to see them tell their own stories in such a cool way-- I think it's the perfect time for it.

JEN ROGERS: So one of the women, and to that point, is Mariann from Mexico. And she said, I think the first step to change the world is to know it. But right now, given the current climate in the world, there's a lot of people that-- you don't want to know what's going on. How do we continue to amplify these important voices, that-- these are beautiful pieces, but to continue to do that in this environment where people are constantly either feeling under threat or put down or that they can't be heard, no one's going to listen?

AVA DUVERNAY: Well, that's one of the tactics of division, confusion, and to make us feel more distant from each other. And we have to be sober enough and know that that's happening and fight against it.

It's easier just to log off. It's easier just to not watch. It's easier not to ask the next question. All that's easier. And a lot of people are counting on that to happen. And the more that happens, the more separated we become. There are a lot of forces out there trying to keep us disconnected.

And so this whole project is really about empathy. To change the world, you've got to know it. I could put that on a T-shirt, you know what I mean? And I believe people would buy it, because I think our natural instinct is to be together. And so we just need to find the ways to do that, and this is our offering.

JEN ROGERS: So in "New Realities," the girls and young women leverage technology in different ways. And it's funny. I have a 13-year-old daughter, so she's younger than most of these people. But when I think of technology and girls right now, I am thinking about TikTok. It is a less traditional way of making an impact, but stick with me.

I'm curious if you think that is an avenue for real change, and especially for girls in particular. You look at what TikTok teens did over the summer with the Tulsa rally. You could look at Claudia Conway right now. She's got 1.3 million followers. So is that a way for girls to be part of the conversation and use technology as well?

AVA DUVERNAY: Sure. I mean, it's expression. And actually. these are all little films. I mean, I'm a filmmaker, so I see everything through the lens of film. But people are making films . These are films. These are little clips. But people are choreographing, designing, costume, music-- these are the elements, the tools, the very basic tools of expression through image.

And I think it's fantastic. And then you have the technology to do it, and the fact that you can press a button and broadcast that to the world-- I mean, we've been dealing with and working with this technology for a while, the way that you can record yourself and broadcast right away. But something about TikTok and the way that it's galvanized young people's imagination-- it's not just documenting. There's imagination that's going into it as well. I think it's very exciting, very necessary, and something that we all need to be watching closely.

JEN ROGERS: Before we go, can I ask you one question about "13th"?


JEN ROGERS: Because I rewatched it this summer of, course, and I saw it when it came out. And it was one of the most watched films on Netflix this summer. What do you make of that, just following George Floyd's murder, that it became such a touchstone?

AVA DUVERNAY: I'm proud that people embraced "13th" over this summer of racial reckoning. And the thing that I hope doesn't happen is that people watch that film and feel like--


--got it, understand. The film was designed and directed in a manner that it is a primer. It is a first touchpoint. It is an opening, a door opening to a whole history that I hope people become more curious about. You can't watch the film and just feel deeply and then keep moving. We have to keep learning about each other. We have to remain empathetic. And that only comes through continuing to learn.

That was a 100-minute film. We spent 100 minutes learning about things that you may not have known about. And the question is, will you invest more time in those things that you say you care about. So that's my hope with "13th," that we've seen that a lot of people are. And so the hope is that that education of empathy just continues.

JEN ROGERS: And part of that education of empathy is in "New Realities." Those films launch this Sunday. And you can watch them. It's with the International Girl Day. Kristin, back to you.