Ben Greenman, Ava DuVernay and Questlove in Conversation about Creativity Across Genres

Award-winning director, screenwriter, and journalist Ava DuVernay joined musician, producer, culinary entrepreneur, and New York Times bestselling author Questlove at Pratt on April 24 for a conversation about creative careers that span many areas and mediums of artistic expression. The event was part of Pratt Presents, the Institute’s signature series of free public programs, and was the second in a series of conversations between Questlove and other artists and creative visionaries.

The event, which was moderated by novelist and non-fiction author Ben Greenman, filled Memorial Hall on the Institute’s Brooklyn campus. After a welcome and introduction by Pratt Institute Provost Kirk E. Pillow, the speakers began by discussing their early creative lives and first artistic influences, before Greenman shifted the conversation toward the topic of artistic collaboration. DuVernay emphasized the importance of sharing and collaboration in creative projects, and Questlove discussed his experiences in creating music and working with record labels.

Exploring the topic further, Greenman asked, “How do you think of creativity when you’re building off of someone’s work?” DuVernay responded that she has enjoyed working on adaptations more than she had anticipated. “There’s something about having something else there to work with,” she said, an idea that Questlove said he calls “revisioning.”

DuVernay also spoke of challenges faced by women in the film industry, saying that she is “constantly shooting” film because it is more difficult for women to maintain momentum in film compared to their male counterparts, and shared a statistic that 95 percent of what we see on television and film is created by men. She spoke about ARRAY, an independent distribution company she founded that focuses on films created by women and minorities.

After Greenman asked the duo what they do when they’re not creating art, DuVernay said that she enjoys traveling, while Questlove noted the importance of being comfortable with boredom, saying that we live in a society that needs to be constantly stimulated. “Boredom produces the greatest creativity,” he said, mentioning that he embraces meditation and taking mental breaks.

Greenman opened the floor up to questions from the audience. An audience member asked about activism, and Questlove said that he feels that activism is needed more now than ever. DuVernay agreed, saying that Hollywood has said that she “centered [on] blackness too much . . . but that work has created conversations.”

Image: (L-R) Ben Greenman, Ava DuVernay, and Questlove