By Zain Beyond Words
“My daddy doesn’t want me!” and an emotional escape for one of my two Afro-Latina students was her response to my small group literacy session on “A Wrinkle In Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. Her best friend and classmate shared the same pain, but with a more obvious denial. It was that defining moment that made me more determined than ever to see how Ava DuVernay could successfully transform this quirky 1962 classic story into something my students would embrace. She did not fail them. She did not fail me. She especially, did not fail my daughter, who like every other girl of color, needs affirmation of her value, particularly from her father.
The promotional tour for the movie boasted of epic performances by box office powerhouses Oprah Winfrey (Mrs. Which), Reese Witherspoon (Mrs. Whatsit) and Mindy Kaling (Mrs. Who). Ironically, their anticipated larger than life characters never dominate the story as the “know it all” fairies common in fantasy novels. In fact, aside from their whimsical introductions and a few words of wisdom, they figuratively and literally fade.
Instead, of allowing the trio to carry the
L’Engle was ahead of her time when she penned this classic novel. Therefore, the book can be an inferential and imaginative reach, especially for reluctant readers. DuVernay’s adaptation is essential for this generation to fully grasp the underpinnings of the story’s universal message: love, as the ultimate power, always wins.
Reading the book definitely solicits forgiveness for the critics’ claims of “cheesiness” that sporadically “plagues” the film. The story, is a literary potion of sci-fi, fantasy and realistic fiction with a slight hint of nursery rhyme appeal. Perhaps it is the tinge of nursery rhyme basics that some find too elementary for the storyline. However, it is this very unique mix of genres that balances this story in the hearts of its reading audience. Thus, this is the basis for the underlying complexities of DuVernay’s task: how to stay true to this classic tale, while appealing to a broader modern audience with a universal message that doesn’t allow one genre to overpower the other. In this regard, L’Engle longed for DuVernay as much as DuVerney longed for L’Engle, as the classic did not resonate with my current students as it once did.
DuVernay made masterful connections that revealed the interdependency of the book and this movie. The script was age appropriate, unlike animation flicks that try to engage adults with subliminal sexual overtones, coded language and dry humor. The cinematography is an attempted patchwork of CGI animation and live action
shy of genius, as it captures the authenticity of the original fantasy, while modernizing it for audiences to grasp the full scope of what today’s reader may find too daunting to imagine.
DuVernay takes a classic novel, written during one of the most tumultuous and divisive eras in the history of this country, and ambitiously attempts to reset it in a somewhat social utopia. She gives just enough volume to murmurs of biracial misfits, bullied bullies, muted youth in the public school system, the battle of beauty standards black girls surrender to, and single black mothers (who do not fit the stereotypes) that
cut into the conscience with precision. Some may say she overwhelmed a basic love conquers all story that probably didn’t have to be retold. If that’s the case….