I am so lily-white it’s disgusting. I grew up in a rural area where there might have been four non-white kids total per grade in school, and most of them were related to each other. I have no authority whatsoever to talk about race. But when it comes to talking about A Wrinkle In Time, I’m your geek. I spent the 50th anniversary year blogging intently about it, and if any of you are interested I’d love to resurrect that series here at GeekMom some time (shout out if you care!). Hey, check out my bio at the end of this post and take a good guess what I named my daughter, even! So I think I might be allowed to voice an opinion on the casting of any movie adaptations, at least if I’m saying, “Hey, I like it.” Turns out there were open auditions in New Orleans last week for the latest adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time, requesting actors of mixed race and other minorities to play the leads, and I’m saying, “Hey, I think I like it.”
Full disclosure, I actually enjoyed the made-for-TV movie that Disney put out in 2003. It wasn’t a good movie, but I didn’t abhor it. There are certain non-negotiables I have, and that adaptation did make a few major missteps in my opinion (Camazotz didn’t need a permanent thunderstorm to be creepy, and Meg didn’t need to save the entire planet to achieve a victory), but I even forgave their Meg not having glasses (and yes that was important to me when I read it!) because she so perfectly captured the barely-suppressed rage and frustration and self-loathing at her heart. If your casting gets to the heart of the characters, understands what makes them tick, and manages to find a Charles Wallace who can come across as a five-year-old supergenius without being insufferable, it doesn’t really matter to me what they physically look like.
But some people are pretty picky about how closely casting matches the physical descriptions given in a book, and when you bring race into it, whoa boy. Things get charged. The “whitewashing” of characters in adaptations is wrong because it erases chances for minorities to get more representation, but switch that around, “blackwash” a character, and people fight it: “Why is that okay? It’s not true to the book, either! It’s … pushing a political agenda that wasn’t there!”
So I’m just preemptively taking a stance as A Wrinkle In Time fanatic: this could, and likely will, work. Roll with it! If you look at the actual casting descriptions and think about the characters in question: “troubled, belligerent, yet pretty, and intelligent… now rebellious, she hates herself, believing that no one could love her with the exception of her mother and five-year-old brother… Meg discovers her inner warrior and the powerful strength of pure love” –I mean, that’s it! That’s Meg. Whoever else she is, if she captures this description she will be Meg.
But for my own stupid little personal reasons, I’m excited by nonwhite Calvin. A few months ago I had a Wrinkle In Time dream– well, vaguely, in that way of dreams: this version involved a smuggler’s hideout on a rocky coast, which I am definitely sure was not in the book. But you know how in dreams you just know things without any particular evidence? In my dream, Calvin was mixed race, which, yes, hadn’t been what I’d pictured as I’d read, but I knew without a doubt that he was Calvin, and I even thought to myself, he’s not what I pictured but he’s so clearly HIM. He even, technically, fit the physical description in the book. “Tall he certainly was, and skinny. His bony wrists stuck out of the sleeves of his blue sweater; his worn corduroy trousers were three inches too short. He had orange hair that needed cutting and the appropriate freckles to go with it. His eyes were an oddly bright blue.” Everything except for the eyes. Yes, his hair was orange, an orangey brown, and dreadlocked. He even had freckles, darker upon his already relatively dark skin. Tall and skinny, well yes, of course. But most importantly he had the air of Calvin, a protective, empathic quality that radiated out of him. THAT’S CALVIN.
And when I caught the first hints that this new adaptation– directed by the director of Selma, Ava DuVernay– might break away from white-default casting, that was the first thing I thought of: my Dream Calvin? Will my Dream Calvin actually make it out of my head and onto the screen?
Okay, probably not exactly. I’ll keep you posted if it turns out my dream was actually prophetic. That would be a fittingly L’Engle-like twist.
There are still lots of ways the adaptation could go wrong. That “planet that possesses all the evil in the universe” in the Production Description is worrisomely contrary to the way the Black Thing cast its shadow all over the universe, including Earth. But however many ways it might go wrong, the races of the cast are not one of those ways. This is new, and this is good.