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Director Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time” arrived in theaters nationwide on Friday with a mega-share of expectations.
Launching her career as a director just 13 years ago, DuVernay, 45, has since racked up an impressive portfolio that speaks to what she cares about: race, social justice and compassion. It’s evident in “Selma,” “13th” and “Queen Sugar.”
We spoke with the director in the days leading up to the release to find out how she became such good friends with Oprah and what she hopes her latest movie will inspire in children.
The Lily: What’s it like to be able to pick up the phone and call Oprah?
Ava DuVernay: It’s a privilege that I don’t take for granted. I can text her, pick up the phone to call her, or she calls me. She’s really become a big sister to me. Someone I’m very close to, and I know that the whole world feels close to her, and that’s a gorgeous thing. She feels close to the world herself. She’s just so wise, you know? … Someone who studies spirituality and sociology and all of those things as deeply as she does. You have someone who is deeply empathetic.
Then to be able to have that kind of friendship with her is one of the great joys of my life.
TL: It just seems like the best friendship.
AD: Yeah, it’s pretty good.
TL: Did you send Oprah a text and say, “Hey, would you like to be part of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ ”? How does it work when you’re friends with these big stars?
AD: I was actually trying to get up the guts to ask her if she would be interested in looking up the part. When I told her I was scouting in New Zealand, I sent her pictures and she said, “Oh my gosh, that’s beautiful. I’ve always wanted to go to South Island. I’d only gone to one part of the island when I was there. When you shoot, I’ll come and hang out.”
I thought, “Ah, this is my chance!”
I said, “Well, if you want to come hang out, do you want to do a little work? Would you take a look at this part?”
She did, and she came on board.
TL: Can you tell us about the first time you read “A Wrinkle in Time”?
AD: When [Disney] asked me to come in, they wanted to talk to me about “A Wrinkle in Time.” They gave me the book, they gave me the graphic novel, they gave me the script. I read them all in one night and just really fell in love with the idea of Meg Murray and the idea of creating a cinematic hero unlike any I’d ever seen, ever, in any iteration.
A regular girl of color who wasn’t a hero — not a Jedi, no superpowers — just a regular girl who has to summon the light in herself to battle back darkness and save the world. It’s got epic themes. This is a dark time right now, so to be able to share some ideas like that with young people, ages 8 to 13 years old. When you’re just trying to figure out who you are in the world. To be able to do that, through Meg, is really what captured my imagination immediately when I read the book.
TL: Do you see yourself in Meg?
AD: Yeah, a lot. A lot. It’s the story of a girl who is — in her own mind — very ordinary, very undeserving of success and love.
I grew up in a place where only my family told me that I was great. But nothing in society told me I was great. Nothing in the larger world told me I was great. I never saw myself doing great things on television as a girl from Compton who loved certain music, felt awkward and nerdy and wore glasses. I didn’t see that. My natural hair — I never saw that that was beautiful.
In this movie, a Caucasian boy says to Meg, “I like your hair,” and her hair is not the European standard of beauty. It’s her natural, organic and authentic self. I didn’t see a lot of that. So when I had the opportunity to make this film, I was really emotionally attached to the idea of creating that. I was very attached to Meg, and I saw myself in her.
TL: What do you want kids watching your film to walk away with, after they leave the movie theater?
AD: That they are enough. It’s a simple thing. If kids can get that at an early age, we’d have a lot more enlightened adults. There’s a lot of darkness right now — a lot of confusion, a lot of chaos and a lot of conflict that kids are exposed to.
This is such a core, core tenet of being a good human being — that you are enough. You don’t have to tear somebody else down to be enough. You don’t have to want what that person has. You don’t have to be envious that that person’s got something that you don’t have. You don’t have to keep people out of certain places; you don’t have to exclude.
You are enough, they are enough, he’s enough, she’s enough. Everybody’s enough. And it’s a beautiful way to think about moving forward in life, so let’s hope kids get [that message] from it, if anything.
TL: I’m sure a lot of them will walk away, thinking, “I want to be a director. I want to be in Hollywood like Ava.” What would you tell these kids about your journey?
AD: Kids need to be encouraged and not put in boxes. My story’s a lot about race and gender, but it’s also about age. I didn’t pick up a camera until I was 32 years old.
Nothing is impossible. You’re not immobile. You can always move, always change, always grow.
You’re blossoming. Our whole life is a blossoming. It’s who we’re meant to be until the end of it. That’s what I’d tell kids. Stay open, stay flexible, and just go out and get it.
Photo of Ava DuVernay by Evan Agostini / AP
Photo illustrations by Rachel Orr