The Reelist is a column featuring Kristen Page-Kirby’s musings on movies. For Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday’s review of “A Wrinkle in Time,” click here.
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the importance of people seeing movie characters who “look like them.” That’s never been a problem for me — white women are underrepresented in film when compared to white men, but it’s always been easy for me to find movie characters who look like me. (Well, kind of. As an adult, I’ve got about 50 pounds on most actresses.) Growing up, though, I was more interested in finding my representation in books. I had Laura Ingalls. I had Ramona Quimby. And I had Meg Murry.
Meg is the smart, awkward, kind of grumpy teenager at the center of “A Wrinkle in Time.” In Disney’s adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s novel, Meg (Storm Reid), her genius brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and cute schoolmate Calvin (Levi Miller) head off to save her father (Chris Pine), who took a transdimensional journey that has left him stuck on a faraway planet for four years. To make the trip, the gang uses a “tesseract,” a form of space travel only slightly less stressful than Delta.
Director Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) paints a lush and lovely picture. The CGI’d faraway worlds pulse with life, and the three guides who aid Meg and company (Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling) wear costumes that reflect feminine and cultural power. DuVernay may be a bit too enamored of in-your-face close-ups, but her actors are so strong that even a shot dominated by Oprah’s eyes and forehead is compelling. And while the film changes some details of the novel, it nails the story beautifully.
At 11, I pretty much had the book memorized. Then something shifted at 12. In the late ’80s/early ’90s, there simply wasn’t the robust young-adult genre we have now. When I left Meg and Laura and Ramona behind, I found myself in the California world of “Sweet Valley High” twins Jessica and Elizabeth. I can even recite what they looked like, because it was repeated in every book: sun-kissed blond hair, eyes the color of the sea, perfect size-6 figures (YES. THE BOOKS ACTUALLY SAID THAT). Too old for Anastasia Krupnik but too young for Jane Eyre, I read books that were about teenage girls who had eating disorders or were dying young. Judy Blume did her best, but I largely stopped reading about girls I wanted to be and started reading books about young women I thought I should want to be. I can’t even imagine what it was like for girls of color back then; I might never have been a Sweet Valley-sized 6, but at least my skin tone matched theirs. Seeing a biracial Meg, as she is in the movie, must be powerful for the girls of today and the women whose fictional role models didn’t look like them.
For me, watching Meg Murry come to life on the big screen reminded me of the first time I felt a character really got me — Meg hates her hair, she wears glasses and teachers often tell her she doesn’t live up to her potential. (Please don’t say that to your kids; hearing that over and over in my youth haunts my adult life.) In “A Wrinkle in Time,” I finally saw a representation of the girl I was. Not only that, this Meg hears that she is powerful, that she is special, that everything she thought was a fault is a strength. Now, at least some girls with glasses and not-great report cards and hair with a mind of its own will get to hear the message. If only I could have heard it back then.
More Reelist columns from Kristen Page-Kirby: