‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Will Succeed, If The Film’s Political Agenda Doesn’t Drown Out The Story

‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Will Succeed, If The Film’s Political Agenda Doesn’t Drown Out The Story

The film will succeed if the women unite their creative prowess with the genius Madeleine L’Engle displays in her 1962 sci-fi novel.
Katherine Scheu

Time magazine thinks “A Wrinkle in Time” will change Hollywood and maybe the world when Walt Disney Pictures releases the $103 million movie remake March 9. It just might, but only if it bursts with the beauty of the book that inspires it: “A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle.

L’Engle asks readers to contemplate objective evil, objective goodness, equality, homogeneity, justice, love, and hate. It seems like the cast and crew of “Wrinkle” however, may just want to think about social justice and political agendas.

On the cover of Time’s Dec. 25 issue, “Wrinkle” stars Storm Reid, Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, and Mindy Kaling stare out of a photo’s black background, their hair slicked down and their lips set shimmering with the same shade of matte fuschia lipstick. Each woman holds her chin just slightly higher than typical posture demands, asserting her power and demanding respect.

“Wrinkle” Director Ava DuVernay said she searched out this force as she carefully selected the quartet.

“I wasn’t just casting for actresses. I was casting for leaders — icons,” DuVernay told Time. “Reese is the hottest producer in town. Oprah’s the most prolific, venerable legend of television and an artist and entrepreneur. And Mindy’s one of the few women running a show with her name, about her.”

Through “A Wrinkle in Time,” DuVernay and her squad of wonder women will radiate such power that Hollywood will become the epicenter of a country-wide transformation, says the magazine. The story quotes Oprah recalling how she marveled at DuVernay’s command on the “Wrinkle” set, thinking to herself, “‘O.K., next generation: There you are.’”

Witherspoon echoed this sentiment when she observed that she had never worked with a director who demanded inclusivity like DuVernay did. “[Inclusivity is] just a different perspective, and you don’t get that unless we start to have powerful filmmakers of different colors, different genders,” Witherspoon told Time.

Time spares no words in explaining how the racially diverse and mostly female cast and crew of “Wrinkle” could sweetly cut Hollywood’s bitter exclusivity. Time and the “Wrinkle” team, however, scarcely mention the story they say they’ve fought to retell. The movie will succeed if the women unite their creative prowess with the genius L’Engle displays in her 1962 sci-fi novel. If DuVernay has substituted the story and its themes and lessons with political jabs and social justice rants, it will surely flop.

A staple in the canon of young adult literature, “A Wrinkle of Time” is loved by late middle school and early high school students all over the country. And how could young scholars dislike it? L’Engle makes a hero of a few underdogs who suffer from the same struggles and insecurities of the adolescent readers who make up most of her audience. As Meg Murry, the book’s heroine, pats at the wild tresses of her unruly hair, she tames her volatile temper with even less success. Meg explodes whenever her classmates tease her about Charles Wallace Murry, her 5-year-old brother who refuses to speak in public, despite his expansive vocabulary. Calvin, Meg’s newfound confidant, shrouds his superb intellect to fend off bullies who target brainy nerds.

L’Engle’s story takes a turn for the fantastic when Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin travel to worlds in another dimension with a trio of celestial beings known as the “Mrs.” The six set out to save Mr. Murry, Meg, and Charles Wallace’s father, a brilliant scientist trapped on the planet Camazotz. There, the children face an evil being the people of Camazotz call “IT.”

L’Engle stitches proverbs into every chapter of “Wrinkle,” eventually presenting a tapestry thick with wisdom. “We can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts,” chides Mrs. Whatsit, one of the guardian angels.

“Wrinkle” transcends didactic sayings and witticisms as L’Engle begins to cultivate themes many publishers asked her to scrub out, thinking children too simple and naive to grasp profound concepts. L’Engle has said she knew children could understand the serious themes woven into her work since she read drafts of it to her own kids as bedtime stories. She pressed on, and her meditations on diversity, equality, liberty, group-think, pride, and, yes, Jesus Christ, survived. When Meg faces the fearsome, pulsating brain of IT, for example, she recites the preamble to the Declaration of Independence to extricate her mind from the cerebric hypnosis. When IT sneers that his Camazotz has perfected equality by forcing everyone to be the same, Meg begins to shout something like a mantra: “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!”

L’Engle pushes deeper still as she plays on the theme of darkness and light, good and evil. She presents them as objective opposites and offers only one solution to the problem of hate: love. After Charles Wallace falls to his pride and becomes possessed by IT, Meg realizes she can wrest her little brother’s mind from the monster’s control: “If [Meg] could give love to IT perhaps it would shrivel up and die, for she was sure that IT could not withstand love… But she could love Charles Wallace.”

The book pairs wonderfully with DuVernay’s goal to empower a diverse group of women and defy unjust standards. But in her interview with Time, she does not make an explicit connection between the story’s themes and why she cast the film to achieve inclusivity and nourish creativity. Her actresses seem unaware of this parallel as well. They celebrate inclusivity and diversity (rightfully so) without ever mentioning that the book hinges on the same concepts and champions other noble ideas as well.

Time finally draws out the link when it quotes Winfrey saying movies and TV shows need more racial diversification among leading ladies, especially young ones.

“‘When you don’t see yourself, there is a subconscious psychological manifestation. It’s diminishing.’ But to see yourself as the savior of a world threatened by unquantifiable evil? ‘That will have impact far beyond anything any marketer, any researcher, any of us even know.’”

Time may have put DuVernay’s vision in context of L’Engle’s book in the final sentence of its cover story, but, as the saying goes, better late than never. There is hope that DuVernay has seen how she can craft a fantastic film that springs from a well-selected cast of talented and diverse women who will leave behind personal agendas to teach its audience about darkness, light, and love. And if the movie disappoints, we can continue to cherish the book.

A Michigan native, Katie studies French and journalism at Hillsdale College, where she serves as assistant culture editor at the Hillsdale Collegian. Her work has appeared in Verily Magazine and Liberty Headlines.

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