I don’t think I completely understood the significance of female representation in popular culture until I saw The Force Awakens. I’ve written about this before, so I’ll be brief here, but when I saw The Force Awakens for the first time, I was in a movie theater, and I happened to be sitting next to a little girl. If you’ve seen the film, you may remember that it opens with Rey, sifting through scrap metal in the darkened hull of an abandoned space ship. But you don’t realize it’s Rey, because she has a mask on, and if you’re the five-year-old girl sitting next to me, you haven’t read a lot of press coverage or reviews, so you aren’t even expecting a character named Rey or an actress named Daisy Ridley. Maybe you’ve never even seen a Star Wars movie before. It’s all new to you. You’re quite impressionable. All you see is a masked person in a strange place.
A few minutes into The Force Awakens, the masked person going through the garbage climbs out of the ship and into the bright desert sun. The person removes the mask to reveal . . . a young woman. For me, this was not a dramatic moment, but the girl next to me turned excitedly to her father and said, “It’s a girl!”
That was a heartwarming moment, but it was also a little bit sad because I realized that she was already assuming that it would be a boy at the center of the story. And I wondered if I, too, would have assumed that character was a boy, if I hadn’t read some reviews in advance. Ever since then, I’ve tried to make sure that my son sees a lot of movies and reads a lot of books with girls at the center of the story. I’ve also tried to make sure that he reads books with children of color as major characters, which has taken more effort, because a lot of the children’s books we have on hand are ones that my husband and I grew up reading. And the vast majority of those stories feature white children. It’s been hard to balance, because I really like a lot of the books I grew up reading, especially the fairy tales and nursery rhymes, but I often wish the illustrations were more diverse and not so gendered.
This is all to say that I’m really excited for A Wrinkle in Time, which puts a young woman of color at the center of a classic novel that I loved as a kid. A Wrinkle in Time was always a novel that spoke to girls, with its brainy female protagonist, and now the director, Ava DuVernay, has made the novel even more inclusive by casting Storm Reid, an African-American actress. For other roles, the casting has also been diverse, and there have been a ton of think pieces about how this movie is going to change Hollywood–which, who knows? But at the very least–which isn’t least, at all–a bunch of little girls are going to go to the movies and be pleasantly surprised to see someone who looks like them on screen. And little boys like my son will be watching, too, and seeing a a super-smart middle-school girl save her father. I can’t wait to take him.
The civil rights advocacy group, Color of Change, is working with AMC to buy tickets to the movie for school and community groups around the country. If you’d like to donate, here’s a link.
I’ll leave you with some words from the lead actress, Storm Reid, who seems to understand, better than anyone, the importance of her role:
Ms. DuVernay thought of Meg as just a regular kid who finds her potential, but to Ms. Reid, she is a superhero: “She is an African-American girl that is smart, that is beautiful and that basically realizes that she is enough,” she said. With that realization, “she just taps into her superpowers to be able to save her dad, her brother and save the world.”