Ava Duvernay is right now the best female director in the world. In a year that just saw Chloe Zhao become only the second woman ever to win the Academy Award for Best Director, beating out Emerald Fennell for the prize, it is still Duvernay who stands on top of the mountain. Chloe Zhao’s win for Best Director only underscores the struggle for women and people of color to gain recognition in films. In 2014, Ava Duvernay’s outstanding and powerful film SELMA was nominated for Best Picture while Duvernay was shockingly left off of the list of nominees in the category for Best DIrector. Fortunately, the film MIDDLE OF NOWHERE did give Duvernay the well deserved “Best DIrector” prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012.
MIDDLE OF NOWHERE is an intense character study of Ruby, a young African-American medical student, played marvelously by Emayatzy Corinealdi, and how she deals with the difficulties of trying to support her incarcerated husband, Derrick. The situation jeopordizes the couple’s future together and without offering any spoilers, Ruby eventually begins a relationship with a new man, Brian, a bus driver played by David Oyelowo. Although the scenes between Ruby and Brian are sweet and tender, Duvernay never lets the movie turn into a sappy romantic story. She keeps the focus more on Ruby and the relationships she has with her sister Rosie and her mother Ruth.
This film is not only directed by a woman but it is about women. Two of the most effective scenes involve on screen, save fo the dinner scene where Ruby’s young nephew is present. Early in the film, Ruby finds out that Derrick is eligible for early parole. Ecstatic, she gets dressed up and takes the 2 hour bus ride to the prison to visit him. On the bus, we see Ruby joking chatting and laughing with a familiar woman. The women share a moment of “girl talk” about their husbands who are both in prison. During the conversation the women are framed in Medium Shots but a few Wide Shots of the bus sprinkled in between shows us that the all of the passengers are women, the same as Ruby, making the long journey to visit the man in their life who is in prison. The scene’s cheerful tone is the perfect set up for the bad news that is waiting for Ruby when she arrives at the prison and sees Derrick.
Towards the end of Act Two, Ruby attends a dinner with her Mother and Sister that quickly spirals into a major family quarrel. Ruby’s Mother, played by an always brilliant Lorraine Touissant, begins lashing out at her daughters. Ruth accuses them of throwing away all of their potential with the mistakes they’ve made and at the same time demanding that they show her more love and affection. For Ruby, this is too much to take, and while she refuses to take the bait and enter into a shouting match with Ruth, Ruby storms out of the room with the realization that it is not too late to take back her own life and follow a path toward happiness, not bitterness.
MIDDLE OF NOWHERE is an excellent reminder of why Ava Duvernay is the best female director and one of the best directors working in film today. Her virtuosic skill as a writer and director were on full display in this film, which was only her second feature.