10:00 am EDT, July 17, 2017

Why Ava DuVernay’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ is so important

Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time premiered its first trailer at D23 this last weekend and managed to blow audiences away even amidst a weekend filled with Avengers, Jedis and Disney princesses.

We’ve already talked about how A Wrinkle in Time is shaping up to be one of the best films of 2018, but here are three reasons why Ava DuVernay’s adaptation is also going to be one of 2018’s most important films.

It’s the first film with a budget of over $100 million dollars directed by a woman of color

Ava DuVernay

Giving female directors budgets of over $100 million dollars is still basically unheard of despite the fact that we are living in the year of our Lord 2017. The first female director with this kind of budget was Kathryn Bigelow with 2002’s K-19: The Widowmaker. The next was 15 years later — this year — with Patty Jenkins and the summer’s smash hit Wonder Woman.

This makes Ava DuVernay just the third female director to command this sort of budget and the very first female woman of color to do so.

Patty Jenkins showed that a female director can conquer the the superhero market, and Ava DuVernay will be able to do likewise when it comes to the heavily male-dominated genre of fantasy.

It’s a fantasy film that focuses on female voices and storylines

A wrinkle in time

Fantasy has long been my favorite genre. Like most people of my generation, I grew up right alongside Harry Potter. I re-read the Lord of the Rings trilogy every single year from ages 11 – 17. I devoured TOR fantasy books like it was my day job.

These were stories set in far more exciting lands than my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. They were stories with wands and witches, magic and monsters.

Yet they were also stories largely devoid of female voices.

Sure, female characters populated the stories — often as the love interest or sidekick or some combination of the two — but the stories themselves often hinged on the adventures and perspective of its male (generally white, if the countless book covers are to be believed) protagonist.

This has gotten better as I’ve gotten older, with Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy and YA series like Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy dominating best-seller lists, but the film world still has a bit of catching up to do.

A Wrinkle in Time will give us an intrepid young adult group that is not only led by the strong-willed Meg Murray, but is also guided by three wise and eccentric female witches. Meg is a nuanced female protagonist who goes off to rescue her father, helped along the way by the aforementioned witches and, at one point, a motherly alien she nicknames “Aunt Beast.”

In a film industry where women make up less than 20% of all protagonists in the top-grossing films, A Wrinkle in Time is a shining beacon. Women — their stories, their voices, their character arcs — are front and center in this upcoming fantasy film, and it feels like a breath of fresh air.

It’s a genre film in which a female character of color is front and center

Meg Murray A Wrinkle in Time

When I was an 8th grade teacher, I was forever recommending fantasy books and films to my students, though I’d find that they’d mostly fall on deaf ears.

Of course, there are a variety of reasons why a 14 year old would have no interest in taking a teacher’s recommendation. But one that’s always stuck out to me is this, told to me by one of my black female students: that fantasy stories were boring because they were just about a bunch of white boys fighting evil.

And the thing is — she wasn’t really wrong.

Because while movies have definitely made some in-roads in terms of female representation in all genres — even fantasy — the fact of the matter is that women of color are still often relegated to the background or, at most, as a one-note love-interest.

Movies like Wonder Woman and the new Star Wars trilogy all proudly feature strong female leads —
and that in itself is a great achievement — but they also relegate their women of color to secondary or inconsequential roles.

Ava DuVernay could have looked at this beloved YA story and done what most other YA film adaptations have done, which is to cast a white lead.

Instead, she opted “to place a brown girl in that role of Meg, a girl traveling to different planets and encountering beings and situations that I’d never seen a girl of color in.” In doing so, she has made a story that speaks to those who have never felt spoken to before.

Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time is for those of us who have ever felt ignored or absent when they picked up their favorite book or watched the next big budget film on the big screen. For those of us who have seen ourselves presented only as sidekicks or background characters or one-dimensional love interests.

It is a story for my former 8th grade student.

At the very least, it is a story that has the potential to change what fantasy might mean to her and to countless other young women of color.

Ava DuVernay has given us — all of us — a fantasy film that is not about some white boys fighting evil, but about a black girl overcoming it.

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