November 27, 2016

Upcoming “A Wrinkle In Time” Adaptation: Story vs Platform

Posted in Pop Culture at 8:18 pm by chavalah

"A Wrinkle In Time" 30th anniversary book cover

“A Wrinkle In Time” 30th anniversary book cover

Fourth and final installment of my #NaNoBlogMo Project!

Note: I’m a little late with this one due to the Thanksgiving holiday. This is also one of those ideas that I thought up months ago, with the publication of this Mary Sue article, but the subject matter has evolved with time. Sensitive issues abound ahead, and I hope to tackle them with care.

I’ve been a huge fan of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time since I first read it in the 5th grade, and I was thrilled when I read about an adaptation being in the works. Yes, there was a tv adaptation in 2004, which sucked, and of which L’Engle herself said “I expected it to be bad, and it is.” But the screenplay for this new one is written by Jennifer Lee, who blew me away with her sibling relationship component in Frozen. It was enough to make me feel hopeful, as the Meg/Charles Wallace dynamic is undoubtedly my favorite part of the story.

It’s been a long time in the making, but news has been fast and furious of late. We have a release date—April 6, 2018—and lots of principal cast—Storm Reid as Meg, Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Witch, Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Whatsit, Mindy Kaling as Mrs. Who, Chris Pine as Dr. Alexander Murry, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dr. Kate Murry, Levi Miller as Calvin O’Keefe, Zach Galifianakis as the Happy Medium and etc. They started principal photography earlier this month.

There’s no denying that this is an industry-driven project. One of the (*cough* numerous *cough cough*) things that I like about The Hunger Games film adaptations is that it was a passion project for indie studio producer Nina Jacobson, who then brought the rest of the team together. Game of Thrones, inspired by the A Song of Ice And Fire series, had a similar backstory, with producers David Benoiff and D.B. Weiss approaching author George R. R. Martin, who gave the OK to these two guys to get the ball rolling. But A Wrinkle In Time was snatched up by the monolith, Disney Studios in 2010. They hired Jennifer Lee in 2014 to take over for another screenwriter, then earlier this year, they finally found their director in Selma-famous Ava DuVernay. These big industry collaborations may run the risk of being a little more soulless. But on the other hand, I’m pretty happy with the Warner Brothers-backed Harry Potter films, so you never know.

But there were some things that gave me pause in the Mary Sue article that I linked above, or to take it back to its source, this multi-topic interview with the Los Angeles Magazine. Primarily that DuVernay isn’t a fan of viewing white-only fantasy adaptations like Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, and one of her biggest objectives with this film is to showcase people of color.

Let me back up a minute to say that I’m kind of tilting at windmills here. I have absolutely no problem with the casting in A Wrinkle in Time. I’m totally down with the Murrys being portrayed as an interracial family. And anyone who has a problem with Meg and Charles Wallace not being seen as white Americans of Scottish ancestry, let me remind you that Levi Miller, who plays Calvin O’Keefe, isn’t Irish American either. But somehow popular opinion doesn’t seem to care as much about one white ethnic group playing another white ethnic group, vs the people of color question.

This is giving voice to the fact that the United States is comprised of more than one race of people. I understand and respect the power of that. But as A Wrinkle in Time fan, I feel some trepidation about the story not coming first. In most of DuVernay’s interviews that I’ve read, she focuses on the importance of having POC folks inspiring the action behind and in front of the camera, rather than what drew her to the magic of L’Engle’s world. I can’t help it—I’m a book snob. The main reason I’m interested in this film is in seeing a beloved story come to life.

We are in early days here—there’s still at least several weeks left of production, I’d think, then post production, and then a few months of promotion leading up to the film premiere—that’s plenty of time for DuVernay and the rest of the crew to talk about adapting the story, and it’s universal themes, as well. I’m just bringing this up because I’m grappling with the issue. I want to see more POC representation in movies, films and books. But there is more to any good story than the genetic makeup of the people involved. I hope that we also keep in mind that this is a tale about a young girl finding her voice, searching for her father and caring for her baby brother. I hope that we can see Meg build up a relationship with Calvin and learn from the three witches, and the issues they have to teach about humanity’s goodness and the fight against darkness. And as much as representation is important, the things I mentioned belong to everyone. Speaking as a Jew who feels close affinity to this book that takes inspiration from a liberal Christian mindset, this adaptation should ultimately transcend our ethnic and cultural differences.

Fantasy is an amorphous beast. So much of it, and I’d include Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and even Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice And Fire take heavy inspiration from a dogmatically Christian and/or medieval European mindset. The Harry Potter books are largely based in the UK and rely heavily on European mythology, but there’s room to imagine a more diverse Wizarding World. The Hunger Games (which isn’t fantasy, but I always have to talk about it :P) deals specifically in issues of economic disparity, and more broadly in genocide, propaganda and war. Meanwhile, I’d loooooove to see Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series adapted to the big screen, which delves into Middle Eastern folklore for its magical worldbuilding. A few months ago, BookRiot published this list of middle grade fantasy with Black girl leads. Some of these stories seem to rely on specifically African inspiration, and others are more universal, but happen to feature a person of color. A Wrinkle in Time (which is technically labeled as “science fantasy”) is definitely more universal.

Ultimately, I don’t think that Storm Reid, say, will be playing “Black Meg”; she will be playing THE Meg, and if he work in 12 Years a Slave is any indication, she’ll be a great one. Now if only I could tesseract to April 2018! Alas.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] skip past A Wrinkle In Time movie adaptation news, which I kinda/sorta covered on Chava’s Footsteps. Instead, I’ll point out that Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughters plan to write a biography […]


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