I Want the Images to Stick to Your Ribs Like Soul Food – Ava DuVernay on A Wrinkle In Time

Ava DuVernay and I met in 2012 at the Blogalicious Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada and I felt like I was in the presence of greatness, but I wasn’t quite sure how that would manifest. With work like Selma, and 13th under her belt, she’s a director that does exceptional work, and when I saw that Disney had tapped her to directA Wrinkle in TimeI knew that we were in for some visual treat. I stated in my review that it took me seeing it twice to appreciate the vision, and from what I’m reading, there are still some adults out there who no longer have the ability to view movies with child-like wonder any longer. That makes me a bit sad, and it also makes me more committed to holding on to that aspect of myself for as long as I can.

She is vibrant – both in demeanor and dress (the burnt orange dress she wears is AMAZING against her skin) and her locs flow freely down her back. She is the epitome of black girl magic, and the smile that is spread across her face lets me know that she is indeed proud of this film that she’s made. This piece of childhood fancy that is now immortalized on-screen for those of us who feel in love with the book long ago – and our children who are falling in love with it now

Before we start interviewing, she shows off her social media chops by getting film of us greeting her as she comes in and posting it to the ‘Gram. 

How she honors the intention of this movie being for children

I just really wanted to make a film for kids right now. I don’t have children. I don’t have children by choice. I always said that my films are my children. You know, I put my blood into them. It’s really what has my name on it. It’s what I’ll leave behind in the world and so to be able to make something specifically for kids today, something that I hope endures for kids for a long time to come was very emotional to me. So it was important that we approached the story in a way that we were always thinking of young people but then also with the young people that we had on set making sure that they felt safe, included and that their voices were being heard because I was really listening to them a lot about what’s cool, what do the kids wanna see, you know. What they said surprised me.

They liked not to be talked down to and a lot of times in kids movies, you know, they’re always trying to — I found this with some of the people you know, at the studio that were like it should be more jokes, kids like to laugh. Yes, kids like to laugh but kids also like to think. They like to feel and so, you know, at first 30 minutes of the movie it’s just about Meg. There’s no magic, you know. For 30 minutes we make you sit down and sync into the heart of a young girl and she’s trying to figure out things, struggling at school, struggling with the bullies, struggling with an absentee father, all those things.

We demand that you just look at girl for 30 minutes before the fantasy magic happens and so that really came from Storm. It came from Levi, the boy who plays Calvin saying you know, there were 11, 12 and the kids that were going through and, you know, it’s like it’s worth taking some time to look at that before you send them off flying

Ava DuVernay directs A Wrinkle in Time
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Director Ava DuVernay with Storm Reid on the set of Disney’s A WRINKLE IN TIME.

Ava DuVernay directs A Wrinkle in Time
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Ava DuVernay and Storm Reid on the set of Disney’s A WRINKLE IN TIME.

Why it was important for Storm Reid to play Meg Murry

Mindy said something really incredible. She said that she loved sci-fi growing up but sci-fi didn’t love her. She never got to see herself in it as a girl but particularly as a brown girl, specifically as an Indian girl with dark skin she said and so to be able to in a film where there are representations of her, 
representations like Storm was so important to her. I think it was the same thing for me. Storm’s a little girl from the inner city. We’ve moved the book to be in the inner-city.  
 
A little girl from the inner-city who wears glasses, who doesn’t know how fantastic she is and I related to that. I remember being that. I remember dreaming about all the things I wanted to be and not knowing if I could be them. Not seeing anything in my world beyond my mom who loved me and my family who loved me to tell me you can do it and nothing else said you can do it. Nothing else said you can do it. School didn’t say you can do it. Society didn’t say you could do it. Nothing said you could do this. Nothing said you can be here and direct this movie. Nothing said that you can do any of it and so you have to find it in yourself and that’s what this book says. That’s what the movie is saying and so I related to Meg very much, very much. 

Ava DuVernay directs A Wrinkle in Time
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Chris Pine and Ava DuVernay on the set of Disney’s A WRINKLE IN TIME.

How her creativity and vision expanded as a storyteller

Yeah well money helps. Money helps a lot. We made Selma for 20 million dollars and this was like a 120 million dollars and so when you make Selma and you try to do period clothes and, you know, violence and crowd shots and Dr. King and the clothes and the cars it’s expensive to do period films because you can’t just go out and get them off the street. Like they’re very specialty items so it’s hard to do that movie at this price point, that price point and a 
real change when I came here and I remember one day I was saying god, my producer, Jim Whittaker who I love, so important to call out the men who are just really good guys. 
  
Jim Whittaker, I was like, this is gonna be a good shot. The camera’s not here but it’d be a bigger, better if I had a second crane and doing this. He was like “oh, you want a second crane? Because like did you, were you saying you want a second crane?” I said “no, I was just – can I have a second crane?” He’s like “yeah, just tell us what you want” and I was like “I want a second crane!” So, really cool and it was just like once I had to free myself to say I can ask them what I want and there’s actually budget to do it. 
 
I remember on Selma there’s a scene where they’re crossing the bridge and, you know, the bad folks in the town, the racists people have these horses attack the marchers and in real life it was 57 horses but I remember the producer that day said Ava, we just don’t have enough money. You’ve got five horses. I said how am I gonna make five horses look like 57 horses and they were like this is all we’ve got. And so we made it work with five horses but like this is the kind of movie where if I needed 57 horses there were gonna be 67 horses just in case any got sick. It was like that

How she’s being that one candle to light an entire room.

I really, I really want it to be a seed that blossoms into something beautiful in young people about the way that we treat each other and the way that we see ourselves and the way that we’re seen and so that’s really what I’m hoping. I mean movies have the power to do that. You know, movies have the power to do things that politics doesn’t even do. It reminds me of the time, you know, when kids who had HIV would swim in a pool and they’d drain the pool ‘cause people didn’t even understand what that was and it wasn’t CDC reports or politicians that changed people’s minds about that.  
 
It was images, stories. It was Philadelphia. It was Angels in America, you know, the play. It was stories of human beings going through it that made people think oh, okay I don’t have to be afraid of this and so stories are powerful and so I believe in this story. I believe in this story to be able to plant seeds with young people at this time. There’s a lot of division and darkness in the world to be able to say you could be a light and that if your individual light 
shines, you know, Oprah always says it’s easier to for one light to illuminate a dark room. So if we were the darkness in this room and someone just turned on one candle there would be light in the air. But it’s really hard for darkness to drown out light.  
 
Like I said one candle could light up this whole room, right? And so the idea that we could each be that light and if there were more of us to think that way, if we start with young people now like 13th. Part of what I want to do with that documentary is say understand how the system works now. If we all really understand it then maybe we can do something about it then maybe we can do something about it. It’s like if you could say to kids, if you could understand that you alone, you alone can make a difference just in your world. You don’t have to be Gandhi. You don’t have to be King. You don’t have to be Malala. In your day, when you go to school, you know, when you see a kid being bullied, you know, and you don’t talk about people and you 
behave the right way and you grow up to be empathetic, whole-hearted person in the world you have to start right now.

That doesn’t change. We don’t change that much. Mrs. Whatsit says in the film, “I’m trying but they’re human and very limited.”It’s real, all of you I could see it in your eyes. It’s like I could see the girls in you that were,  that was something in you. There’s some adults you can still see that light in and some you just can’t. The child in them is gone and so this is for kids and for people who still have a kid inside of them ‘cause there’s a lot of cynics and people being like, especially because of me making Selma, and 13th which are serious movies and this not like my other work. I’m like dude, it’s for kids!

This is not Selma in space. This is for the kids. Are you that cynical that you can’t just smile when the girl flies? Can you not smile at a talking flower? Or when you see those women standing in that wheat field and the camera goes over the grass and just be like that’s beautiful. Are you that hard 
that you can’t even see that? And so hopefully there are people who see it and it doesn’t have to be a lot of people [for it to be successful]

On how she chose what was cut and what was added in the movie.

Yeah, it’s a real — it’s a book that a lot of people know. I mean written in 1962, published in ’63, translated to over a hundred languages. It’s adored for generations and so it’s been challenging. It’s challenging to try to figure out gosh, so many people love this book. What do you keep out? What do you do? But, I thought to myself I had to rewrite the speeches of Dr. King for Selma because we didn’t have rights to the speeches so I actually had to write whatever David Oyelowo says in the film, Selma, since those are not King’s actual words. I had to rewrite those speeches and what I did there was just looked at this intention. What did Dr. King intend to say? Let me try to say it in a different way so then I honored in intention. 

It was the same thing here with Madeleine L’Engle. What did she intend to say to kids? What did she wanna get across? Am I getting that feeling across? Interesting thing is early on when we were talking to people about the book people were like oh, my gosh that’s my favorite book from when I was young. I love that book. And then we’d say so what was your favorite character besides Meg and Charles Wallace and they’d be like…”hmmm!” They’re adults. They couldn’t remember. What was your favorite planet? What was the name of this planet? We asked them specific questions. They didn’t know the specifics. They just know the way the book made them feel. They remember that So I thought okay, if I can just make them feel good, feel like they felt then you get the intention so you free yourself up from having to hit every single page. But I am interested in people who really love the book. I think there are some people who just ride with it being different and some people who are real sticklers. 

On what she wants her film legacy to be – even though she has SO much longer to go.

I just want them to be meaningful. I don’t want them to be junk food where you come in, you see the movie and you walk out and you forget about it by the time you get to the car. I want the images to stick to your ribs like soul food right and I want, you to think about the stories or got something, get something from the narratives or the way that the camera moves or the way that something looks. Try not to let it be empty calories, instead let it be a meal and I think the only way to do that is to put love in every frame. 

My dream was this. Some people’s dreams is family and children. My dream was making movies to leave in the world and so I get to do that every day and I get to have family on set. They know my name. I know their name. I walk up to the set and I get love from hundreds of people every day who are happy to be there and happy to do their work and so I hope some of the way the films I’m making leave a mark but also the way we made them.

On what brings her light in the midst of darkness

What brings me light when I’m in a dark place? I do this thing all day and I don’t talk to a lot of people about it but I do this thing all day where I count gratitude so at the end of the day when I say goodnights to myself and to the universe or to God I’ll say thirteen or forty seven or whatever and in that moment I can’t remember all the things they were but like I’ll count them. So today I’m on 19. You’re 20 right? The things that I’m grateful for in this moment, right and some days you’re going through the day and you’re like I got three. Good night.  
 
It’s my little prayer and I count for gratitude the little pieces of things that I have gratitude for, a smile, a person that lets me in the left turn lane when I know it was wrong and I shouldn’t have been there, the parking spot there, just little things. If you just take a second to acknowledge it, it gives you a little jolt of joy, just the little pieces because I work so much and you guys have families and you got kids and so it’s hard to find the time, the vacation, the 
massage, the big joyful things, right. You just count them through the day and they give you a little kick.

A Wrinkle in Time is in theaters NOW and you should gather every child that you know to have them experience this fantastical movie. The kids and I are off today to see it, and we’re going to discuss it on camera for you on our Facebook page! 

 

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Jennifer H
    March 9, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    I love that we were important enough to be included on her social channels. It really rings true to the Ava we met – she wants everyone to have equal respect. Her words are so powerful!

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