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‘A Wrinkle in Time’ brings much needed diversity to the fantasy genre

by Matt Roseboom

Meg, CW, and Whatsit

Editorial by Sarah Sterling

“A Wrinkle in Time” is Disney’s latest live-action fantasy epic, directed by the acclaimed Ava Duvernay. Unlike many of Disney’s recent live action films, “A Wrinkle in Time” is not based on existing Disney intellectual property. It’s an adaptation of the 1962 novel by Madeline L’Engle (Disney also produced a made-for-TV movie based on the book in 2003). Stunning visual effects, an all-star cast and a stand out soundtrack transforms this classic story for modern audiences, while still honing in on timeless themes that are possibly more essential for today’s youth than ever before.

“A Wrinkle in Time” centers on Meg Murry (Storm Reid), a teenage girl who’s father has been mysteriously missing for four years. When three celestial beings (Mrs. Who, Whatsit and Which (Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey, respectively) appear at her home, Meg, along with her little brother Charles Wallace and friend Calvin O’Keefe, are called to travel the galaxy to find Meg’s father and bring him home.

I first read “A Wrinkle in Time” in the seventh grade. I remember sitting in the hallway between classes with my older sister’s copy of the book. It had a worn, pale yellow cover that featured three white children riding a centaur across a rainbow. In fact, every iteration of “A Wrinkle in Time” that I have seen, whether it be a book cover or film adaptation, has featured predominately white characters (the exception being Alfre Woodard as Mrs. Whatsit in 2003). The deliberate range in casting for this version of “A Wrinkle in Time” not only brings diversity to the classically white fantasy genre, but adds weight to the original messages of the novel.

Director Ava Duvernay stated early on that she “wanted the Mrs. of all different shapes, sizes, ages, cultures, races.” Additionally, Duvernay chose deliberately to have the Murry family be interracial. In the film, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine) is white, Dr. Kate Murray (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is black, and their children are mixed race (Reid) or of Filipino descent (McCabe). It is explained early in the film that Charles Wallace is adopted, which is why he is not of the same ethnic background as his sister. Outside the main cast, there are additional, small roles that were pointedly chosen to be played by non-white actors. Michael Peña plays the part of an evil henchman on the planet Camazotz, André Holland plays Meg’s school principal and Rowan Blanchard plays Meg’s mean-girl classmate. These deliberate casting choices only prove that Hollywood can, and should, choose to make their films diverse, even if the diversity was not necessarily present in the source material they are adapting from.

The diversity in this film expands upon the morals and themes of L’Engle’s novel. Bullying and self acceptance are a huge part of the film’s plot. Meg is the target of one particular mean girl (Blanchard), who is later shown to be battling inner turmoil of her own. While the novel focuses on Meg being teased for her appearance, the film builds upon that by making Meg’s hair a part of her self loathing. In an article by Catherine Saint Louis in the “New York Times”, it is explained that for black women “straightening hair has been perceived as a way to be more acceptable”. Black women have had to grapple between embracing their natural hair or succumbing to society’s beauty standards, which favors silky, straight hair. When Calvin meets Meg, he compliments her curls and she reacts coldly, telling him to please not comment on her hair again. Later, on the evil planet of Camazotz, Meg is offered the chance to become that girl. This version of Meg doesn’t wear glasses, is dressed more fashionably, and has notably straight hair. As Meg has become more confident in herself, she rejects the offer. The focus on Meg’s hair, which harkens back to the politics behind black women’s hair, is something that would not be present if Meg was played by a caucasian actress. Small details like this are what deepen and expand the original themes of L’Engle’s book in Duvernay’s adaptation.

The fantasy genre, within and outside of Disney films, has always lacked diversity. When you consider the biggest fantasy franchises of the past 20 years (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones) you begin to realize how Eurocentric the genre has been and how the characters have almost exclusively been cast with white actors. At a press conference for “A Wrinkle in Time”, Mindy Kaling explained, “I loved science fiction and fantasy growing up, but it was a genre that largely did not love me back. I never saw any representation of like a dark-skinned Indian woman, Indian girl, anybody, in anything that I saw. … I finally feel welcomed with open arms to something that has ignored me completely.” This film adds much needed diversity to the fantasy and sci-fi film genre. As Mrs. Which (Winfrey) says in the cave of the Happy Medium, “Finally, some color.”

The lesson learned by the end of the movie is that each of us are unique and don’t need to change ourselves to please others. We all have faults, but often times our faults are what make us special and are actually assets. For example, Mrs. Whatsit chastises Meg throughout the movie for being stubborn and closed off. But in the climax of the story, it is her “faults” that become most useful. Duvernay said this films sends a message to kids that, “who you are is enough, and this is how you’re gonna make it through by finding something in yourself that guides you.”

Duvernay herself found a lot of inner peace while making this film. She feels the film, “saved [her] in a lot of ways, especially in this time.” No matter your political or religious beliefs, it is a noticeably divided time in our country, and “A Wrinkle in Time” was created with the express purpose to bring some joy to audiences. “This is a happy movie in a dark time, which is particularly important for young kids, especially young regular girls. They need to know that they can be recognized for just being themselves.”

“A Wrinkle in Time” not only has great lessons on self-acceptance for today’s youth, but spreads a message of hope for audiences of all ages and encourages people to be warriors and fight for the light in times of darkness. Duvernay has created a modern classic that is both visually appealing and thematically substantial. Be sure to take your friends and family to see this excellent film.

Movie Review - Disney's A Wrinkle in Time
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