Ava DuVernay Responds To “A Wrinkle In Time” Critics: It’s Not Supposed To Be “‘Selma’ In Space”

by Anna Greer

The New York Times’ live performance and speaking series “TimesTalks” most recently featured the glorious Ava DuVernay on the eve of the release of her new film, A Wrinkle In Time. Audience members literally jumped out of their seats as soon as the iconic filmmaker walked on stage for the event. Interviewed by New York Times editor Jazmine Hughes, DuVernay spent the next hour and fifteen minutes talking about her new movies, her life, and what it means to be a black woman in the film industry. 

Hughes and DuVernay started by discussing DuVernay’s childhood. To no one’s surprise, she was a giant nerd, and very comfortable with being one. She told the audience about lunches spent working on student council projects. DuVernay was an outsider, but don’t worry — as Beyoncé would say, “Best revenge is your paper.” She, along with screenwriter Jennifer Lee, went a step beyond that and named the bully in Wrinkle In Time after her own, real-life bully.

DuVernay saw all those outsider qualities she ascribed to herself in Meg Murry, the protagonist of A Wrinkle In Time, and connected with them. She thought a lot about herself at that age and talked to her niece, Molly, throughout her work on the film. The movie is made for children ages 8-14, which you can definitely tell when you see it. It’s very clearly a children’s movie in the vein of Escape To Witch Mountain and the NeverEnding Story. DuVernay said, “That was my jam. Like, I wanted to fly on the dog.” This might be why some critics (*cough, cough* white, male adults) didn’t give it stellar reviews. She said she thought they were taking it too seriously and were expecting something like “Selma in space,” in reference to her previous film about the 1965 civil rights marches in Alabama. She loves these movies and said, “They may not set the world on fire when they open, but they mean something to young people.”

Obviously, making this film was very different from DuVernay’s most prominent projects, Selma and 13th. Hughes showed a clip from Wrinkle In Time where Meg (Storm Reid) has just tessered to a different planet with emerald green grass and a wide, open sky. Reese Witherspoon, Oprah, and Mindy Kaling match the saturated beauty of the setting with stunning costumes and exquisite makeup. The day after they shot that scene, DuVernay had to fly back from New Zealand to attend the Oscars and do press about 13th, where she had to switch to talking about mass incarceration and institutionalized racism. She enjoyed being able to “let go” while working on Wrinkle In Time. “You’re directing people to be racist, you’re directing people to be beaten and murdered. And so for me to design some flowers, y’all, and, like, put a blonde wig on Oprah. I was like, ‘Oprah do you want to be bedazzled with rubies today or would you like…’ It was fantastic. And I needed it. You know, I really needed it. So I think this saved me from dark places in a lot of ways. “

Ava DuVernay is the first black woman to have her film nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. She’s also the first woman of color to direct a movie with a budget larger than $100 million. No other woman filmmaker, of any race, has had a career with the “longevity” and “consistency” that match those of Hollywood royalty like Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola. “I want to be an old lady calling ‘action’ and ‘cut,’” she said. As a first of many things, she doesn’t have anyone who looks like her to turn to for advice. “There’s no one to look at and say, ‘I want her career…’ The next black women or brown woman, or Native woman, or Filipina woman or whoever that comes up, she can call me, and I’ll know what to tell her about what worked and didn’t work.” DuVernay is forging her own path, but looks to careers like Steven Spielberg’s and admires the risks they required.

Another career DuVernay talked about was that of Storm Reid, whose performance as Meg Murry in Wrinkle In Time was nothing short of brilliant. She is a national treasure, but DuVernay expressed her worries for the young actor’s future. “I feel like the sad part is this beautiful actress, at 14, may never have another part that’s as full-bodied, robust, and full of all the life and complexity that black people have, in the body she inhabits. Because we don’t have an industry that can make these films.” If you’re reading this article, I want you to promise that you’ll go see whatever future movies Reid works on.

That is the power we have as audience members, according to DuVernay. “The majority of what you’re watching is seen through the lens of male directors. It’s just the case, and as an audience we accept it. It’s the audience who will be the only thing to change Hollywood. Executives won’t change it, festivals won’t change it, the Academy won’t change it. It’s the audience who will change it.”

We can already see what happens when studios acknowledge that there are wider audiences than the ones to which they have historically catered. During the Q&A, a black woman came to the microphone and spoke of her twins, a boy and a girl. The boy had many references for what he wanted to be. When they went to see Black Panther, her five-year-old daughter ran up to the poster for A Wrinkle In Time. She pointed at Oprah, Mindy Kaling, and finally Storm Reid. The mother’s voice broke when relayed what happened next. The daughter said, “I want to be like her.” A tear rolled down DuVernay’s cheek as the mother thanked her for that moment, even if it caused her to have a viscerally emotional reaction in a movie theater hallway. She finished with, “We see you and our daughters see you.”

And it wasn’t just in that auditorium. A friend of mine was sitting down for her showing of Wrinkle In Time at that exact moment. She was seated next to a little girl with natural hair and glasses. As soon the credits began to roll after the movie, the little girl whispered, “I’ve always wanted to fly.” 

Go see A Wrinkle In Time. Go see it again. Ava DuVernay is a light in the darkness, and exactly the kind of warrior Oprah asks for in the film’s eternal fight between good and evil. Go watch the TimesTalk. It is the perfect companion to the movie. Go read what black, femme folks have to say about how the movie is impacting them.

avaduvernaychildhood ffefaPhoto via @ava

I’m ending this article with a picture of a much younger Ava DuVernay, maybe at the age of many girls going to see her movie across the world. It, along with A Wrinkle In Time, encapsulates the awe-inspiring wonder of black girl magic.

Top photo: André Lenox/BFA.com

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