Editor’s Note: Van Jones is the host of the #VanJonesShow and a CNN political commentator. Tune in at 8 p.m. ET Sunday to watch the next episode with special guests Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay. He is the co-founder of #cut50, a national, bipartisan criminal justice initiative of the Dream Corps. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
This weekend, a child will walk out of a movie theater somewhere in America, with her life changed and her sights forever lifted by a single motion picture: Ava DuVernay’s magical “A Wrinkle in Time.”
Film has that kind of power. And DuVernay, a visionary director, has – once again – used it for the highest possible good. Her latest offering is a big, Technicolor love letter to the children of the world.
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The message is clear: with enough courage, hope and love, no matter who you are, you can beat incredible odds and do extraordinary things. DuVernay’s mission is to take the ceiling off the next generation’s dreams. The movie will resonate deeply, especially for young girls who are not used to seeing themselves at the center of world-saving sagas.
That said, put away your expectations. This is a children’s movie. The film was not deliberately and scientifically engineered to hit all “four quadrants” of the film-going audience (male and female, above and below 25). It’s a fun fairy tale – an uplifting festival of beauty and song. It is a coming of age story for an awkward puberteen. In an unprecedented way, it sanctifies the hopes, fears and secret dreams of little girls around the world.
So DuVernay may be scratching an itch you don’t consciously have at this stage of your life, but you should experience it anyway – and you should definitely bring along every young person you know. The refusal to elevate and celebrate protagonists of every kind and color– especially young girls – is one of Hollywood’s greatest failures. The lack of representation is one that has robbed us all.
I am in my late 40s. As an old-school science fiction and fantasy nerd, I thought I had seen everything. Directors have shown me worlds at the far edge of the galaxy. I’ve seen starships battling each other, fire-breathing dragons, orcs and Balrogs, Wookiees and Ewoks, Webslingers and Kryptonians. I love all that stuff!
But in my decades of staring at screens, no director has ever shown me a little brown girl flying with glasses. The sight of Meg Murry, played by Storm Reid, doing so moved me in a way that I didn’t expect it to. I have no idea what that scene will do for actual little brown girls – wearing actual glasses. But I suspect: something epic.
The 1962 book, “A Wrinkle In Time,” empowered an entire generation of young girls – and gave many of them the silent permission they needed to become enthusiasts about science. My HLN colleague SE Cupp told me that the book was a life-changing gateway for her. After she read it, she demanded a telescope, became obsessed with space and is a NASA nut today. My wife tells a similar story about the book, as do other women of my generation.
So while traditional metrics are always important, the value of a film like this one can’t be measured in box office receipts alone. After all, there is no Rotten Tomatoes score for generational impact.
In 20 years, I believe that a surprising share of our pioneers in science and technology – and especially the young women – will point to this film as an early catalyst and comfort. Through that lens, this film may generate trillions of dollars in scientific progress, alone. Disney may not get to directly reap a share of those profits. But humanity will.
Very mild spoiler alert, which will shock nobody: the young heroine in this film never delivers a roundhouse kick to anyone’s head. Nope. Not once. She never pulls out a light saber. She never blasts anyone with a ray gun. And yet she somehow manages to save the day, complete her quest and blossom into an unstoppable force of a different kind.
In other words, DuVernay is not just showing us a new kind of heroine at a cosmetic level. She is showing us a different kind of heroism!
When everything is on the line, and it’s time to save the universe, it’s not the speed of her fists but the size of her heart that gives her the incomparable advantage. Her greatest weapon proves to have been inside her all along: it is love. Love for her father, her love for her brother, and ultimately a love – newly discovered – for herself.
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In fact, love saturates this film. Oprah Winfrey is especially dazzling, as she channels her late mentor Maya Angelou to create “Mrs. Which” – a wizened master with more power and inspirational insight than Obi-Wan or Gandalf knew how to summon. It is also just fun to watch the young actors steal nearly every scene from the Hollywood legends who populate the cast. Reid, a breakout sensation, is particularly a wonder to behold.
In “A Wrinkle In Time,” a new heroine, and a new KIND of heroine, is rising – and not just on the big screen. There is a heroine behind the camera, too. She could have played it safe – and turned in a formulaic popcorn muncher. But just like her protagonist, Ava DuVernay has taken the harder path and risked it all – for love.
May that love be returned 1,000-fold, on this opening weekend and beyond.