A Wrinkle in Time and women of colour in fantasy: An interview with Ava, Oprah, Reese and Mindy
Niellah Arboine and Paula Akpan, Paula Akpan and Niellah Arboine
23 Mar 2018
Based on a beloved American novel, Disney’s newest family adventure film, A Wrinkle In Time, follows a young girl, Meg (played by Storm Reid) who goes into space to find her missing scientist father with the help of three magical beings – the three Mrs. Struggling with feelings of self-doubt, these celestial beings played by Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon, and Oprah Winfrey, take Meg on cosmic journey, but also on one of self-discovery. gal-dem had the opportunity to sit down with director Ava DuVernay and three stars from the film, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling, to talk about the importance of Women of Colour (WoC) in front of, and behind the camera and the impact of such a film on young viewers.
“What films like these do is start to normalise black women in the canon of sci-fi and adventure, something that not many of us grew up seeing.”
When Madeleine L’Engle wrote the novel in 1962, she was considered revolutionary in her time for having a girl as the central character. Similarly, Ava has brought the story into the 21st Century by conceptualising Meg as black. Ava explains, “I figured if she [Madeleine L’Engle] did a radical thing then let’s do a radical thing now and make it a girl of colour.” Much like the character of Ru in the film adaptation of the Hunger Games, and Hermione in the stage version of Harry Potter, key characters are increasingly being rewritten as black. What films like these do is start to normalise black women in the canon of sci-fi and adventure, something that not many of us grew up seeing.
This normalisation of women, especially WoC, in an genre generally dominated by white men is a striking and hugely important aspect of A Wrinkle in Time, particularly as a filmed geared towards young adults. Mindy says: “Growing up, I loved science fiction, I loved fantasy and you’d be more likely to see someone blue than someone with black or brown skin. As a kid, you’re like, okay well I guess that’s normal.” Reese goes on to say, “When I first saw Star Wars when I was a little girl, I said ‘there’s only one girl in all three of those movies and there’s aliens everywhere and there’s one woman! Who gave birth to all these aliens?’” Sci-fi is fundamentally about imagination and yet the genre has historically taken a narrow-minded view regarding who gets to feature in said imagination.
“‘…you don’t really understand what it’s like to never see images that reflect you back to you and how important that is’”
By creating central characters who are WoC in a storyline that isn’t about race or oppression, the film reflects a fresh new image to young people, one that all three actors believe that they would have benefitted from seeing when they were younger. “I would’ve believed I could go to different cosmos,” says Oprah. “I think unless you are a person of colour who never sees yourself, you don’t really understand what it’s like to never see images that reflect you back to you and how important that is.”
Oprah also notes how vital representation is, particularly at a crucial, young age. “One of the things that excites us all is seeing the social media response. Someone sent me a picture today of a little girl, she looks like she’s five and she’s got little pearl eyebrows – she’s a little brown girl dressing up as Mrs. Which.” For her, this kind of imagery on billboards, buses and screens – showing young people what is possible – is truly powerful.
“Ava explains, ‘it’s tragic that over 100 years that cinema has been in existence, no one has been given this opportunity’”
A Wrinkle in Time also makes Ava DuVernay the first black women to direct a film with a budget of over $100 million dollars which, Ava describes as “bitter-sweet”. It’s a massive achievement for not only her but for all black women film directors, because “a door has been broken down and now it’s open for other women”. But, the fact that it has taken up until 2018 for this to happen, is a clear indication that there is a real need for diversity in Hollywood.
Ava explains, “it’s tragic that over 100 years that cinema has been in existence, no one has been given this opportunity”. With the majority of the most expensive films to date being those in the adventure/sci-fi genre, it really proves that the presence of women, especially black women and WoC, is hugely lacking – something that Mindy believes is essential to address. “I think that movies that don’t have that are being seen as very outdated which is wonderful. Ava was really at the forefront of inclusiveness in front of the camera and behind the camera. If you don’t have a really inclusive-looking cast or female directors or female writers, then you’re going to be seen as really behind the curve.”
“‘I think there’s so much out there that makes girls lose confidence in themselves. They’re bombarded by images that don’t look like them and are unattainable’”
Ava DuVernay described A Wrinkle in Time as her “love letter to young people”. And at the heart of it is a story about self-love, overcoming self-doubt and finding a way to love and accept your flaws. Reese deems this as critical for young adults. “I think there’s so much out there that makes girls lose confidence in themselves. They’re bombarded by images that don’t look like them and are unattainable.” This universal experience is tackled head-on by the three Mrs. who all urge Meg to find the best in herself from the outset of the film. Oprah adds: “I think your biggest job on earth is doing exactly what Mrs. Which says to Meg in the beginning of the movie – finding your own frequency and having faith in who you are. The real job is discovering your voice and discerning your voice from the rest of the world’s.”
Such powerful messages, paired with the fact that black and brown girls can see themselves represented, makes for a rare mix, made all the more potent with a black woman at the helm. “Oprah and I grew up loving other things than just watching only Indian things and only black things,” says Mindy. “You start to feel like being left out is just part of who I am. But the fact that my daughter doesn’t have to feel that way? It’s incredible and it’s going to be great to go through that with her.”
This complete re-framing of science fiction is almost a magical concept within itself. As succinctly put by Oprah, “We no longer have to go to where the blue people are. A step in the right direction”.