Ava DuVernay might be the busiest artist in Hollywood right now. Her to-do list includes a CBS drama series about police violence, a miniseries about the Central Park Five, a new season of “Queen Sugar” and an entertainment diversity initiative. Plus there’s a little film fantasy called “A Wrinkle in Time” that opens in theaters today (March 9).
Her adaption of the 1962 children’s novel features a predominantly Black and Brown leading cast, and as a Disney property, it is her biggest budget film project to date. But that hasn’t shifted DuVernay’s focus; the “Selma” filmmaker says the movie incorporates the same social justice and empowerment themes that have always guided her work.
DuVernay talked to Colorlines about those themes, moving beyond the barriers that come with being a Black woman in entertainment and what she hopes her youngest audience members will do after the closing credits.
The premiere date is finally here. In a word, how do you feel?
Excited! I’m happy to share something that I’ve worked on for two years with the world. The film has messages that are important to me, that I want to share with young people. This movie was designed for young people. Some of the same ideas that I explored in “Selma” and “13th”—justice, dignity, empowerment and representation for all—are embedded in “A Wrinkle in Time.”
How does “A Wrinkle in Time” incorporate justice and equity themes?
In the very presence of Storm Reid, Deric McCabe, Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in a youth fantasy/sci-fi film. People of color have not been seen in this way before. Seeing a girl of color in a film like this breaks some new ground, and hopefully we’ll see many more film heroes rendered in different ways. The story that Madeline L’Engle wrote in 1962, which endured for several generations and has been translated into over 100 languages, is about a girl living her life with a light inside of her that society tries to dim. That’s a narrative with which a lot of people who have been marginalized in their lives can connect.
Casting Storm Reid in the lead role gives Black and Brown girls a chance to see themselves as protagonists in a fantasy story. For those who see this movie and want more sci-fi or fantasy content, where do you recommend they turn?
I would definitely point to literature. There’s quite a bit of futuristic storytelling that deals with differences in time and space, particularly the work of Octavia Butler. It would be wonderful if this film was a gateway for young girls and boys—and folks that identify as both or either—to encounter her work, which is filled with futuristic images of people of color.
Last year, you told The Hollywood Reporter that you have trouble saying “no” to projects because of the traditional lack of opportunities for people from marginalized groups in entertainment. One year later, do you still feel this way?
I think that is the scourge of many artists. I talk to artists of all kinds, disciplines, genders, races and ages, and there’s always a question as to whether or not you’ll be able to continue to work. Certainly, my anxiety about that is compounded by being someone that the industry has not traditionally allowed to make consistent work, by way of being a Black woman director. But I also am empowered by my ability to make things independently, which is something that I’m grateful for because that’s how I started.
I have two series coming out: I’m shooting a pilot right now, and the third season of “Queen Sugar,” so I have shows going on in New Orleans and Chicago at the moment. I’m about to shoot my next project, “Central Park Five,” in New York this summer. I’m also prepping my next documentary, a follow-up to “13th,” which is about a completely different subject, but still uses the documentary format. And I’m looking at a movie after that. I’m trying to break the mold for myself, get out of this mindset of fear and anxiety around new work and just keep working!