Time and again, Ava DuVernay has displayed the leadership, voice and vision to produce masterful and meaningful projects.
From her powerful creations like Oscar-nominated series “13th” and the award-winning film “Selma,” there is no limit to her genius -- and on Friday, DuVernay dropped her latest release “A Wrinkle In Time,” a film adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle’s popular novel from 1962, becoming the first woman of color to direct a film with more than a $100 million budget.
The film follows a young girl named Meg, played by the remarkable Storm Reid, who is guided by three guardian “warriors of the light,” played by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling. Meg is on a hunt to find her scientist father who’s been swept away to a dark planet through a tesseract, a method that allows him to “wrinkle time” to travel through different dimensions. Meg is insistent upon finding him and with the help of her younger brother, Charles Wallace, and her high school friend Calvin (who has a crush on her), the three join together to fight forces of evil and find the light that leads them to her dad.
Portrait rendering by Neko Harris
DuVernay admits that she never read “A Wrinkle In Time” as a child and that it was, in fact, Disney who poached her to direct the project. In fact, Tendo Nadenga, a black man who is the executive vice president of production at Disney, was a big supporter of DuVernay and believed in her vision to make the film as inclusive as possible.
“Before I had even taken the book and materials, Tendo Nadenga told me, ‘Imagine all the worlds you’ll be able to build,’ I said ‘worlds?’ He said, ‘This girl hops planets and goes to different worlds,’ so I grabbed all that stuff and ran home and read it all,” DuVernay told Shadow & Act.
“Immediately upon reading it, I felt very attached to Meg and the idea of this girl and even more excited by it if (Disney was) going to be down with the girl being a girl of color -- and they were,” DuVernay added. “I told them all of these different characters and how I’d love for them to make them reflect the real world, they were completely in for that.”
DuVernay said she was fortunate to have been poached by Disney because they were committed to her same mission around diversity and inclusion, an effort she’s been devoted to all her life.
“When they invited me in, they were in that space,” DuVernay said. “Usually my brothers and sisters have to go in and try to pitch a vision and make people understand how we see the world and say, ‘Please value us, please validate us.'”
DuVernay credited her early days as an independent filmmaker for teaching her the early lessons in making movies that she now does not take for granted.
“It’s why it’s so beautiful to start in the independent space where you can really be the decider, the champion of your own destiny,” she said. “I started in that space, Dee Rees started in that space, Ryan Coogler started in that space -- it’s not lost on me that we all started in that moment.”
“Shadow and Act was a huge part of championing us early on -- because you walk into the studios with a greater sense of self-worth,” she went on to say. “I know that I can make films, and that my voice is valid.”
Now, in leading a star-studded and talented cast of a massive release, DuVernay is well aware of her status as a black woman director and still plays by her own rules to maintain her mission around inclusivity and respect.
“I only pick and hire people I know have respect for me,” she said. “I interview every department head and I interview every (deputy) in every department and by interviewing a department head who I know is empathetic and respectful of my vision and what we’re doing, I trust that I’ll have a whole department filled with those kind of people.”
DuVernay did the same for “A Wrinkle In Time,” and the end result turned out to be a feature film with a diverse cast, striking visuals and a message for kids that in crazy times like this, where the world feels filled with madness and mayhem, they need to rely on their own voice and do the good they wish to see in this world.
“You can shape people, you can shape who you want the future to be, it’s a love letter to kids,” DuVernay said of the film. “Don’t be snarky, don’t be cynical, walk into the theater with your child’s eyes -- when I watch it that way I have fun.”
“I’m proud of it. I love what we made,” she added. “I love what it says in the world, this is a film for kids. It’s a dark, crazy, divisive time and it’s for young people to say, ‘You can be a light.’”
A Wrinkle in Time is in theaters now.