A Wrinkle in Time was a must-see film for me, and a must-see flick worldly different from dashing out to see Black Panther. It doesn’t mean, however, Ava Duvernay’s $100 million film with a multicultural cast isn’t without problems. It is, which is one reason why the film has received mixed reviews — unlike Black Panther’s ongoing and wildly enthusiastic critical appraise.
While it is wrong to expect from Duvernay what was achieved by Ryan Coogler’s blockbuster hit — because they are both African American film directors — and moviegoers have never experienced back-to-back films with Black actors as leads, the critiques about Duvernay’s interpretation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 classic is not unwarranted. What is unjustified are the racist critiques about using a young Black female actress to depict a universal theme about the messy complications, frustrations, and uncertainty about girlhood.
“Teenage Meg Murry and her mother, who are both White like the rest of their family in the A Wrinkle in Time novel, are portrayed in this film version by Black actresses Storm Reid and Gugu Mbatha-Raw; dad is played by Caucasian Chris Pine,” movie critic James Dawson wrote in The Federalist. “Twin brothers from the book are missing entirely from the movie, which may be a blessing, considering that political correctness probably would have dictated they be played by a Native American dwarf and a disabled transsexual.”
Dawson is operating out of the tendentious belief, still regrettably heard by many today, that only White actors should portray Shakespearean characters, unless, of course, it’s Othello, the Moor of Venice since Blackface is no longer in fashion. These same bigots are outraged by Black cast adaptations of The Wiz (1978), Magnolia (2012), and Annie, Steel (2014).
The hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite” emerged out of the glaring absence of people of color. Outside of urban or comedic or hypersexualized racial stereotypes, a meaningful portrayal of African Americans in films is more an anomaly than the norm found in White films. Today’s modernized versions of coons, thugs, mammies, and maids are expected roles for African American actors in both Black and White films which makes Black Panther a seismic surprise and A Wrinkle in Time, shockingly confusing to White moviegoers like Dawson.
Black little girls of my era weren’t seen on television. Before my era, watching old Black and White films of the cherubic child star of the 1930s, Shirley Temple, only reminded me I could never be America’s little darling. Temple’s moments with the great African American tap-dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in four musicals only cemented for me just how cute, precocious, and better-at-tap-dancing little Black girls could never be in step with the only accepted image of girlhood.
“I grew up in an era where there was absolutely zero, minus, images of girls like her [Storm Reid] in pop culture,” Oprah stated in an interview with NBC News. Oprah is Mrs. Which in A Wrinkle in Time. “So I do imagine to be a brown-skinned girl of any race throughout the world, looking up on that screen and seeing Storm. I think that is a capital A, capital W, E, some, AWESOME, experience,” Oprah added by phone. “I think this is going to be a wondrous marvel of experience for girls that in the future…will just take for granted.”
Film critic Aramide A. Tinubu depicts DuVernay’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time as a love letter to Black girls. DuVernay depicts the film as being Black woman-fied. It is, in my opinion, not only a Black woman-fied love letter, it is also a shout out saying, “I see you, Oprah; I see you, Irene; I see you all with all your messy and wonderful selves.”
African American female portrayal in films as children or adults is usually one-sided and painfully dehumanizing to watch.
In 2010, the actress and comedian Mo’Nique captured the gold statue for best-supporting actress in the movie Precious, based on Sapphire’s novel Push, where Mo’Nique was a ghetto welfare mom who demeaned and demoralized her child every chance she could.
In 2011, writer-director Dee Rees’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama Pariah depicted a religious mean homophobic mother. And, in 2012, Amandla Stenberg portrayed the character Rue in the blockbuster film The Hunger Games. The film script followed the book closely, unlike the Dawson complaint about the casting of Rue in A Wrinkle in Time. Some fans were apoplectic, nonetheless. Sadly, the result was a tweeting tsunami of racist comments focusing on the presence of the few Black characters in the film — especially of Rue:
“Why does Rue have to be Black? Not gonna lie, kinda ruined the movie.”
“Kk call me racist but when I found out Rue was Black her death wasn’t as sad.”
“Why did the producer make all the good characters Black?”
“Awkward moment when Rue is some Black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you pictured.”
Little Black girls in strong starring roles now counting Storm Reid’s Meg in A Wrinkle of Time is four: Zelda Harris as Troy in Crooklyn (1994), Jurnee Smollett as Eve Batiste in Eve’s Bayou (1997), and Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie Bennett in Annie (2014).
Little Black girls are in the shadow of this racialized political moment of police brutality, school shootings and the “Me, Too Movement.” A Wrinkle in Time was my must-see film because it was the only time of late that I saw young Irene’s and little Black girls’ struggle depicted.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist.
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