Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time director Ava DuVernay sat down with EBONY to discuss the film returning to theaters for Mother’s Day weekend, Black art and being a Black female juror for this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
DuVernay spoke the epic film based on Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel of the same name and the recognition it received for its diverse casting. The Oscar-nominated director also touched on the political nature of creating Black art and the impact of social media on discussion around it. She also offered insight into the upcoming season of Queen Sugar her hit drama series on Oprah’s OWN network.
What has been the reaction from girls and young women, especially those of color, during the various complementary screenings of A Wrinkle in Time?
The film has been open since mid-December, and we’re going into our final weekend before it goes to DVD. Disney has been really great to expand the number of theaters, especially for Mother’s Day weekend, which is the weekend coming up. I just want to invite people who haven’t seen it yet to check it out. I’ve had a beautiful response from women and girls around the world. So many people have come up to me from the United States, the U.K., France and Germany talking about the representation. I had a lovely time making it, and it’s been really wonderful talking to people about it.
Are there any aspects of A Wrinkle in Time you feel most mainstream critics overlooked or misunderstood about the film?
Well, I don’t really [listen] to what they say. I did Selma, I did 13th, I did Middle of Nowhere and tried to focus on the experience [of] making those and what I wanted to say. That’s my job, so to fret about what people say about it good or bad I think puts you in a challenging place. I used to be a publicist before I was a filmmaker, and I would always tell my clients who were filmmakers to focus on [their] work. So that’s what I’ve tried to do. I didn’t really engage in what they were saying. I know some of them responded and some of them didn’t, and that is OK.
How do you strike a balance between making relatable stories for people of color and poetic freedoms to bring Black life to a more creative and innovative place than it has seen before on-screen?
We have so many Black creators now who are working to expand what our predecessors have done. We stand on the shoulders of incredible artists and incredible filmmakers. Maya Angelou was a filmmaker. Zora Neal Hurston made films that most people don’t know about. Melvin Van Peebles, Arthur Jafa, Spike Lee, Julie Dash, so many people who came before us. We are here preparing the ground for the people who will come after us.
I’m lucky to share this moment with people like Lena [Waithe], Issa [Rae], Melina [Matsoukas], Ryan [Coogler], Jordan [Peele], Barry [Jenkins], Malcolm [D. Lee] and Donald [Glover]. It’s a really beautiful time that we’re having [now with] all this Black expression on film and television [from people] like Shonda [Rhimes]. I think there are a lot of people pushing the envelope to expand what the images are, but we have to tip our hats to the ones that have done it before us. I think we’ve done that. The act of making images as a Black person is a radical act and a political act. We’re remaking what the industry and the mainstream has told us has value to its history and we’re resisting that to make images in our own image. It’s all wrapped up together, but it’s a very vibrant time, and I’m happy to be apart of it.
Speaking of Black art, have you seen Donald Glover’s This Is America video and, if so, can you give me your thoughts?
Yes, I have. I think it is doing exactly what [Glover] wanted it to do. It’s provoking thought and conversation. It also pushes you to engage with the work. I think it’s been fantastic to see the ways in which people are wrestling with the images and debating the ideas they were presented. Bravo to him for instigating some conversation about important topics.
On the flipside of that, you recently spoke out about Kanye’s comments on slavery. Do you believe the best response is to boycott his music and stop buying his clothes?
I’ve had it with @KanyeWest + @RKelly using the imagery of lynching as rebuttals re: their dastardly behavior. Evoking racial terrorism and murder for personal gain/blame is stratospheric in is audacity and ignorance. This is what lynching looked like. How dare they? pic.twitter.com/wfobcdjiKL
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) May 2, 2018
No, I wouldn’t say that. I think I said what I had to say in my tweets. My tweets were specifically about his use of the imagery of lynching. What he thinks about slavery and what he feels about himself is his right to do and to express. But to correlate his experience to a violent act . . . I had just come back from the lynching memorial, and that’s murder and assassination. I don’t feel like we should throw that word about so easily and so cavalierly in regards to a personal crisis. That’s my opinion on it, and I think it’s a shame to use the vicious acts of violence [or] to take the name of them and apply them to a little discomfort on his part. That was really emotional for me having just come from the lynching memorial. I had steeped myself for about a week in what that history, [and it] just didn’t sit well with me. No, I’m not a part of a boycott to not buy his clothes. It’s not like I can afford any Kanye clothes, anyway. But no, a [call to boycott] is not what I was saying.
You’re one of the two Black women to stand as a juror for #Cannes2018. Was that on your bucket list? Did you see yourself reaching that achievement?
Heck, no! I never dreamed of it. As a filmmaker, you really want to be a part of the festival; I never imagined that I would be invited to do it. It’s been really wonderful to hear them speak about my work and the work of other African-American directors. To be the first Black woman director on this jury in all of its history . . . it’s sobering to think of the other women who could’ve been here and certainly trying to represent as best as I can while I’m here to assert that voice and point of view and perspective. Khadja Nin, the Burundian woman, is on the jury with me and it is fantastic to be able to look across the table and see her. The whole jury has been really fantastic and supportive.
Cate Blanchett came with Khadja and me to see a film in another category that we are not judging by a Black woman director (Wanuri Katiu) called Rafiki. I believe its the only film by a Black woman director playing at the festival. It was important for me and Khadja to go and support that sister. Léa Seydoux and Blanchett two of the other women on the jury came with us. So it’s that kind of jury really supportive of each other’s work and each other’s interests.
You allowing female directors the space to engage in the craft on Queen Sugar. How do you combat critics who say you’re one-sided in offering opportunities mainly to women?
There may be those critics. I’m sure there are, but I don’t have to combat them because I’m not on the defense. We make a series with women directors, so I guess they are trying to combat us. We are standing in our space and making our work, doing good work that’s what we focus on. We’re not at war with anyone. If someone is at war with us, that’s something they’re going to have to deal with. I would much rather them sit back and enjoy Ralph Angel, Charlie and Nova, but if they have other ideas for what it should be, that’s fine, too.
— Queen Sugar (@QueenSugarOWN) May 2, 2018
At the time of this interview, the premiere of Queen Sugar is 20 days away is there anything the audience should be excited about?
When I really love a TV show, I just miss the characters [when the show is on hiatus]. I want to see them come back and live in front of me. Some cool twists and turns are happening this season. What I find people talk to me about is loving the characters, identifying with the different characters and wanting to see them interact with each other. The characters reuniting and more familial intrigue awaits you. So excited to be back.
What advice would you give to other upcoming Black creators?
Just to create. You see the stories of the people that are interested in and talking about right now whether it’s Kara Walker or Hank Willis Thomas on the art scene or whether it’s music from Janelle Monáe, Jason Moran or Donald Glover. On television, you see Lena Waithe and Issa Rae. All of those people woke up one day and decided today was the day to create something. It’s not something outside of you; it’s the magic inside of you. Tap into that and decide today is the day you’re going to make something. That’s your first step toward doing whatever it is you want to do. You have to give yourself permission to do that.
If you have not seen A Wrinkle in Time, DuVernay urges you to catch the film with the women in your life this Mother’s Day weekend before it leaves theaters. The film will hit DVD and digital platforms June 5.