Female Filmmaker Friday: Middle of Nowhere, 2012 (dir. Ava DuVernay)

I watched this a few weeks ago when it debuted on Netflix and I was blown away. I wish I had written about it right away, though, because I was going to recommend you all go watch it, but it appears to be not available on Netflix anymore (and it’s not on DVD!) It’s aired on BET before, so hopefully it will again. I know the film was distributed by DuVernay herself, so perhaps that’s part of the reason it’s unavailable (distribution, in theaters or digitally or home video, is super expensive!) I’ll keep you updated if it becomes available, because this is an important film. I remember when it first came out in theaters, it was when I was still living in San Francisco, and it was only playing in one theater and it was quite the bus ride away, but I was determined to go, but then when I finally had the time to go it was gone! But this film was definitely worth the wait and I hope it becomes available on home video sometime soon, because it is beautifully layered (DuVernay won the Best Director award for her work at the Sundance Film Festival!) and deserves multiple re-watchings.


DuVernay’s next film Selma about the Selma to Montgomery marches will be released on Christmas Day (as will Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken), so if you live in LA or NYC, that better be your Christmas Day plans!


Middle of Nowhere  centers around Ruby (a knock-out debut from Emayatzy Corinealdi), who puts med school on hold so she can be there for her incarcerated husband Derek (Omari Hardwick) while he serves a six-year prison term. The opening scene where she reveals this decision to her husband (who wants her to just forget him), is absolutely devastating. The film then cuts to five years later, when Derek is about to come up for early release for good behavior. Ruby has been trekking out to the prison on a bus every other weekend for the last five years, she’s been managing all his documentation for his case, working extra to pay off their legal bills and is generally worn down. There’s also drama with her younger sister Rosie (Edwina Findley Dickerson) and her mother Ruth (Lorraine Toussaint). DuVernay got the idea for the film while doing research in Compton to understand the women who lived there and incarceration kept coming up. She said their stories were so compelling, but are rarely told in a way that resonates with others. She sure succeeds with this film.


She also has such a unique eye for composition, which is photographed gorgeously by cinematographer Bradford Young. I love this shot above, where Ruby is tying her hair in a scarf before going to bed so that it will not be mussed as she sleeps. This is such an intimate and culturally important moment, and DuVernay just barely lets us glimpse it.


About halfway through the film Derek is finally up for probation and things don’t go as well as they’d expected. I don’t want to spoil it, but I wanted to post this shot because, again, it’s so beautifully composed.


As Ruby’s whole world falls apart, DuVernay keeps the camera focused on a close-up of her face. Emayatzy Corinealdi has such expressive eyes, allowing the viewer to feel everything Ruby’s feeling. This shot is sort of the opposite of the previous shot, where we’re viewing, but kept at a distance. This time, we’re right in the shit with Ruby and as her face takes up the whole screen, we see how this one moment is going to mean everything for her going forward.


Also in the mix is bus driver Brian (David Oyelowo), whose bus Ruby rides coming home from the hospital after her shifts. Brian is attracted to Ruby and asks her out, but at first she resisted because she is married. At one point in the film Ruby and Rosie go to the beach because Rosie heard on Oprah (I think it was Oprah), that in order to find the kind of man you want, you have to go to the place that kind of man would be – so if she wants to meet a man who would take her and her son to the beach to see fireworks, she should go to the beach to see fireworks (this advice is so simple and yet so good!). This doesn’t seem to work out for Rosie (this time), but they do run into Brian off-duty and Ruby is visibly tempted by his offer. After she finds out something devastating about her husband, she decides to get revenge by going after Brian, but in the end it’s not really revenge, rather a new chance at love. This shot above really got me because it is so similar to one of my favorite scenes ever, from Killer of Sheep (if you haven’t seen that whole film, get on it!).


I love the art direction in this film. Look closely back there at the sign. DuVernay specifically chose the house she filmed in (a Spanish-style duplex in South Los Angeles) because it reminded her of the home she grew up in. She wanted to show that Compton was more than just Boyz in the Hood. I love directors who are this detail-oriented in every little piece of their film (this is why she won Best Director at Sundance!)


For most of the film, we only check in with Derek at the prison when Ruby visits, but towards the end of the film, we visit him when he’s alone reading a letter from her. The scene includes this shot, which is just so devastating. His isolation, his disappointment in himself and his despair are all captured in this striking shot.


And as we leave Ruby, we see that her journey, while not finished, is on a much better path. She’s ready to live her life for herself (which is what her husband told her to do in the opening film). She’s finally allowing herself to be her reason for living. We leave Ruby with a sense of hope for her future, though it is uncertain, which is the best kind of open ending.


About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on September 12, 2014, in Female Filmmaker Friday and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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