Yesterday I attended a 4:30 showing of A Wrinkle in Time----a Monday afternoon, at a local theater servicing primarily college kids, all of whom are off on spring break, seeing a "flop" of a film. This meant that I had the theater all to myself and was able to cheer and laugh just as loudly as I pleased.
I honest to god loved this film.
Now look, I read Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time back in middle school and though the sheer weight of the story stayed with me, it's been a good fifteen years since I returned to the text. Thus this review isn't concerned with how well Ava DuVernay adapted an "impossible" book. Rather, I'm interested in how A Wrinkle in Time stands on its own as a film and, crucially, how people are responding to it.
Take a gander at Rotten Tomatoes or plug "A Wrinkle in Time" into Google and you'll find post after post telling you just how bad this film is. The narrative is sloppy. The CGI is meh. Diversity is great, but does the story suffer for it? And a personal favorite of mine: it's just too, sickeningly positive.
Christopher Orr of The Atlantic admits that the film might be "pretty good," but we should remember that it's a children's movie: "See it with a child or----as DuVernay recommends---with a child's wonder. Otherwise, probably don't bother seeing it at all." Another reviewer asserts that "It's got Oprah, diversity in casting, good message but it is STRICTLY for kids." Still another says that "Director Ava DuVernay wants me to imagine being 12 again. The 12-year old in me didn't like it and 12-year olds today won't either."
I was honest to god in shock reading the same review again and again. Since when do we need to warn people that a film has lighthearted messages aimed primarily at children?
Out of curiosity I went back and compiled a list of the most notable children's films of 2017, grabbed their Rotten Tomatoes ratings, and took a look at where A Wrinkle in Time fit in. This was the result:
Ranked by critics' consensus, A Wrinkle in Time is a worse movie than the third Cars, the third Despicable Me, Boss Baby (good god), and My Little Pony. Its audience score also doesn't beat out any of the children's films with a lower critics' consensus, meaning that more people liked The Emoji Movie than A Wrinkle in Time.
(Please take a moment to let that sink in.)
Now yes, the film only came out a few days ago. I sincerely hope that A Winkle in Time's scores rise rather than fall over the next few weeks. However, I find it deplorable that it received these scores at all---and I'm also more than a little suspicious. Adults all over are justifying their hatred of the film because it's "sappy" and "meant for kids," but they were obviously fine with embracing their inner child when it came to these other seventeen films. As for the "sappy" complaint, I find the responses to Paddington particularly notable in that regard:
This film "preaches a message of acceptance," it's "colorful and evocative," "promotes the importance of family and good manners" in a way that's entertaining rather than boring, and has a "warmth and wit" to it that makes it required viewing. Despite the fact that ALL of this can be said about A Wrinkle in Time, suddenly such sappy 'love conquers all' themes are annoying rather than heartwarming.
Look, there's no point beating around the bush anymore. There's a clear double-standard at work here and it goes by names like "misogyny" and "racism." With the exception of My Little Pony and Beauty and the Beast, all these other children's films have male leads. With the exception of Coco and Power Rangers (that also met with backlash for being "too diverse"), none of these films feature characters of color. What's more, we happily embrace "bad" films all the time, but they're granted the reprieve of being popcorn fare. No they're not going to win any Oscars, but they're highly enjoyable for a Friday night, and isn't that enough? Well, it is when you're a white guy going on a whacky adventure, but as soon as you throw a woman in that role---particularly a woman of color---suddenly if the film isn't an utter masterpiece it's not worth your time.
I chose the post title I did because this is the exact same thing that happened with Jupiter Ascending. I've spent a lot of time defending that film based on the fact that it's the story revolving around women's wish fulfillment rather than men's: a dissatisfied protagonist suddenly finds that their boring life characterized by routine and manual labor is all just a ruse. They're actually one of the Most Important People in the universe and they're finally whisked away to accept their birthright. There are dramatic adventures, awkward moments, fights reliant on futuristic technology, and lots of scenes involving that Hot Love Interest. In the end they save the day and everyone adores them for it.
I'm talking about Jupiter Ascending. I could just as easily be talking about Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
Men have always been allowed to put their self-inserts into film. Want to imagine yourself going on a violent rampage due to the loss of a loved one, everyone thinking you're the ultimate badass? Take your pic from any action film produced in the last forty years. Want to picture yourself in a drama situation instead, the kind of heart-wrenching scenario that wins people Oscars? Chances are you're the lead of that film and can fall right into it. Would you like eight films revolving around a guy going fast and furious in his pimped out car? You've got it! Now we might laugh at how stupid the films are, how terrible and silly... but they're still being made. No one sneers at them with the visceral hatred they would a "woman's" film. I'd never have to justify watching a Fast and Furious marathon like I have to justify watching Jupiter Ascending to everyone who's ever brought it up.
A Wrinkle in Time is more of the same. It's unapologetically for women----or at least in how we characterize "women's interests" based on stereotyped gender roles. It's got bright colors, catchy pop music, glittery costumes, a supportive family who physically and verbally communicates their emotions, little girls getting to enjoy science without criticism, the awful effects of body shaming and weight loss, a male lead who is respectful in his romantic advances, a little brother who isn't ashamed to proclaim how much he loves his big sister, a wife who is very much her husband's equal, messages of love, acceptance, of finding a place thats as warm and smells as good as the Murry household. It's Miss Congeniality meets Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul and set in space.
A Wrinkle in Time is also unashamedly black. Meg is our protagonist, the daughter of an interracial couple and the older sister of a mixed race adopted brother. She meets the warriors of the universe, the two oldest and wisest of which are women of color. Throughout the film it's Meg and Charles Wallace who find solutions to their problems and keep the plot moving forward----leaving Calvin to tag along as the emotional support. When Meg defends herself from a bully she's told that the bully's parents now "fear for their daughter's safety" (a common exaggeration that black people face in this country. Self defense is reframed as violent tendencies) and throughout the film there's careful attention paid to Meg's hair. Twice Calvin compliments it, both times Meg is hesitant to believe him, and when faced with the "perfect" version of herself it's no coincidence that this alter Meg doesn't just wear sexy clothes and contacts, but has perfectly straight hair too. She saves the day---literally---by shouting for everyone to hear that she deserves love, full stop, regardless of her flaws or mistakes. A Wrinkle in Time isn't concerned with outside antagonists like Darth Vader or Sauron. The It is only dangerous because of the lies it tells us, and one of the biggest lies black girls are told is that they're only good enough if they look and act white.
Ultimately A Wrinkle in Time is unequivocally diverse, both in characterization and execution. Critic David Ehrlich claims that it is "too much of its own thing to feel like it was tailor-made for anyone but the people who need it most" and honestly that's just a lazy way of perceiving this film. I fall into movies all the time, despite the fact that they're sure as hell not "tailor-made" for me, and it's about time men started doing the same. These critics' reviews sound like the adult equivalent of "Eww, she has cooties." Get over yourself. Give the glittery, optimistic, silly films a chance because you already love them. They're the ridiculous space operas like Star Wars and the hokey films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The only difference is we've swapped out a guy lead for a girl and given them empathy instead of a gun. We need more films like that.
So kudos to Ava DuVernay. I'm sorry the world is too stubborn to accept your work just yet, but you've made excellent headway towards a time when they will. A Wrinkle in Time is important beyond measure and I hope it encourages others to follow in your footsteps. So congratulations, good luck, and above all, thank you.
All quotations taken from: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/a_wrinkle_in_time_2018/
#2: Personal screenshot
#4: Personal screenshot