I will present to you one of the most beautiful sentences in recent memory: Ava DuVernay is directing the film adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. The sentence itself isn’t beautiful, but what it conveys is. We’ve all seen the hype and hoopla around DuVernay being the first black women to helm a $100 million dollar film. While this is an accomplishment worth lauding, DuVernay can make a beautiful film on half a shoestring and great storytelling. She is also the queen of cinematic #BlackGirlMagic. I’ll get to why this is important in a bit.
Madeline L’Engle is one of me and my daughter’s favorite writers. The “Time Quintet” series: Wrinkle, as well as its sequels: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time are required reading. While I am a big proponent of books being adapted to film, not every book deserves this (cough Twlight series cough) But Wrinkle deserves so much better than Disney’s 2002 television film. I know that films are Herculean tasks to make and release. A lot of people put in a lot of time, effort, and (sometimes) imagination to create an experience for us. This film was horrible. All of the wonder, jeopardy, hope, and love were leached from the film. The film lacked heart, passion, and was poorly acted and scripted. The source material deserved so much more.
A (brief) Wrinkle in Time for the uninitiated: The patriarch of the Murry family, Alex, an astrophysicist for the government, goes missing. He was working on what has been termed a “tesseract,” a rent in the time/space continuum — a 5th dimension that allows travel through/time space in a mere instant. The story revolves around Meg Murry, Charles Wallace, Meg’s brother, and popular (but feels weird on the inside) Calvin O’Keefe — Meg’s budding love interest — on a mission to find Meg’s missing father. They are aided by the immortals; Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which. The group travel through various lands and times, encountering evil and wonder in equal amounts. I don’t want to give too much away, so read the book. Read the entire series.
A la C.S. Lewis, L’Engle wrote from the standpoint of her religion. She was Episcopalian and the binary themes of light/dark and good/evil are prevalent. Alert: the big bad source of evil is called, “The Black Thing.” I have a problem with this, you know why, but I think DuVernay will handle it in a way that reduces (hopefully eliminates) the idea that black = bad.
Earlier this week, it was announced that Storm Reid (12 Years a Slave, American Girl: Lea to the Rescue) would be cast as Margaret “Meg” Murry, the eldest of the Murry clan. Storm Reid is a black girl and folks are already having a difficult time. Wrinkle is one of the few YA fantasy books where a character’s physical attributes are clearly described. Meg is described wearing braces and glasses, and having to manage unruly brown hair. So far, she could be ethnically ambiguous. However her mother, Kate Murry (Dana in the TV movie), is described as having “flaming red hair” and “violet eyes.” Meg feels intimidated by her mother as Kate is described as being very beautiful and a microbiologist. She feels aesthetically and intellectually separate from her mother. Those are pretty specific physical descriptions. Storm Reid is a fantastic actor and this role is perfect for her, regardless of her skin color. Folks are always screaming about colorblind casting…
[A note on colorblind casting: It only works when the race/ethnicity of the character has no bearing on the story. That is why this casting works, but Jason Statham as The Black Panther doesn’t. Whitewashing is still an issue that I oppose, especially in films where the subjects are real people, or the story is based on historical events; i.e., Stonewall or 21. Read our EIC’s take here.]
There has been some other surprising cast announcements. The immortals are looking incredible: Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Which, Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Who, and Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Whatsit. The film is shaping up to be (I hope) the next Potter-level film phenomenon.
We cannot gloss over the significance of Reid being cast and Ava DuVernay directing — not to mention Jennifer Lee, writer of Frozen, adapted the book.
DuVernay loves black people. She understands how film captures black skin and how it is projected on screen. Her imagery and scene construction is some of the most beautiful. Peep this. Also, if you haven’t seen Queen Sugar, do so tonight. You’ll see exactly what I mean. Ava DuVernay also has a grasp on the nuances of black verbal and non-verbal culture and intimacy, so we’ll get a different sort of cinematic black girl. We’re also getting a black girl in a science and fantasy context, something we’ve never seen from a black director’s point of view. Usually when black folks are involved with science, they are responsible for dystopia.
Alex and Kate Murry, nor the Murry siblings, have been cast (or announced) so I’m unsure if the Murrys will be a black family, an interracial family, or a transracially adoptive family. I’m looking forward to seeing how this will play out. As each form of family has the potential to enhance the story in ways we have yet to experience.
I am here for every single aspect of this film. You should be, too.