Speaking at the Refinery29 offices Thursday — International Women's Day, FYI — A Wrinkle In Time director Ava DuVernay impressed upon the crowd the fact that age shouldn't deter hopeful filmmakers — or hopeful anythings, for that matter.
"When people tell [my story], it's about race and gender, 'Black woman director,' but my story's also really about age, because I didn't pick up a camera until I was 32," she explained. Before directing, DuVernay worked in public relations. But, without having gone to film school, DuVernay launched herself into directing at 32, when she made her first short film.
"That's older in filmmaking years, like dog years," she said. "In comparison, Ryan Coogler is 31, and he's on his third film." Today, DuVernay is the first Black woman to helm a film with a budget of $100 million. That film is A Wrinkle in Time, which comes out March 9.
"For me to pick up a camera as a Black woman who did not go to film school — this is a testament to whatever path you're on right now is not necessarily the path you have to stay on," DuVernay said. "If you're on a path that's not the one that you want to be on, you can also pivot, and you can also move, and age doesn't make a difference, race, gender. It's about putting one step in front of another, about forward movement to where you wanna be."
A Wrinkle in Time isn't just notable because it has DuVernay as director. It's also a sci-fi film with a woman of color at its center, part of a growing pack of films. Fourteen-year-old Storm Reid stars as the main character Meg. In Madeleine L'Engle's book, Meg is white, though she is described as having unruly hair. Meg hates her hair, and feels awkward in her own skin, something DuVernay updated for her adaptation. In the movie, Reid, who is Black, portrays Meg. Meg's hair is still a point of anxiety, but the anxiety feels way more relevant.
"We just took that a bit further and contemporized it. So, if there's going to an African American girl as Meg, then what would be her issues around hair?" DuVernay said. "It's the same intention that Madeleine L'Engle had, that this girl is awkward and uncomfortable with the way that she looks, but we just put a different cultural perspective on it."
She continued, "I think that those scenes [with Meg's hair] are really powerful, just to have that validation of [having] what grows out of your head being something that you can accept. Even if people make decisions about all kinds of styles, that it's an option. That you can have straight hair, you can have your hair natural, that you can have additional hair! For so long, society has told African-American women, 'We prefer you this way.' So, what we talk about is options."
Reid, who was also interviewed, shared her own body anxiety: She was worried she'd be too tall. Luckily, Oprah Winfrey told her not to stress over things she can't change.
"She told me, 'Don't waste energy on things you can't change in life, when you could be using that energy on something else positive in life,'" Reid recalled.
"Her worry was that she'd be too tall," DuVernay added, deadpan. Reid, for the record, is in a movie coming out this summer starring David Oyelowo, and she's going to start producing her own work.
Watch the full interview, below.
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