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Director Ava DuVernay Reveals Chronic Illness Diagnosis

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Award-winning director and filmmaker Ava DuVernay revealed she lives with lupus for the first time at Essence Festival earlier in July.

DuVernay, who is known for creating and directing critically acclaimed films like “Selma” and “When They See Us,” is also the mastermind behind the OWN series “Queen Sugar.” The show follows a family who inherits a sugarcane farm in the south. One of the family members, Aunt “Vi” Violet (Tina Lifford), has lupus.

Lupus is an autoimmune condition that causes your immune system to mistakenly attack your body’s healthy tissue. It can impact any of your organ systems and therefore cause a wide range of symptoms, including inflammation, pain and damage to some parts of your body. Like many chronic illnesses, it can be tricky to diagnosis, but affects approximately 5 million people worldwide.

Following the introduction of Aunt Vi’s lupus storyline in 2017, the Lupus Foundation of America thanked DuVernay for her portrayal of the condition on “Queen Sugar.” DuVernay responded by saying lupus affected many in her family and she would continue to use the show to start conversations about living with chronic illness.

“Raising awareness for Lupus is personal to me as it affects my family and so many,” she tweeted in response. “Honored to share the experience. Will continue to do so.”

During a festival session about “Queen Sugar,” Roots journalist Corey Townsend asked the director why she wanted Aunt Vi to have lupus. DuVernay shared her “very personal” reason for the first time.

“I’ve never been asked that question directly, so I’ve never had the opportunity to tell anyone that I have lupus and that’s why I put it in,” DuVernay said, according to People. “I’ve been in remission for 20 years, but I did want to make sure that we create spaces to talk about it.”

In 2018, DuVernay defended criticism about her choice to portray chronic illness on “Queen Sugar” while shutting down the idea chronic illnesses can or should be “healed” or someone with a chronic condition can’t be “whole.”

“Respectfully, we can have physical illness and still be whole,” DuVernay responded to one comment on Twitter. “That’s what this storyline explores among other things. Many of us live with chronic illness and still we thrive and live and love wholeheartedly.”

DuVernay joins other celebrities like Selena Gomez and Toni Braxton who are open about living with lupus. DuVernay said at Essence showing what it’s really like to manage, live and even thrive with chronic illness is important to her.

“We wanted to really give that chronic illness to Vi and show you can live and you can battle through it, you can continue to thrive, but you have to manage it,” DuVernay said, adding:

It’s something I’ve been able to manage and live with and thrive. It’s really given me strength in a lot of different ways and so hopefully her character going through it as well will help people know they can do the same.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Stephanie Moreno/Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications for Peabody Awards/University of Georgia

Originally published: July 11, 2019
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