With ‘Black Panther’ and ‘A Wrinkle in Time,’ inclusion dominates at the box office

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Storm Reid stars in "A Wrinkle in Time." Disney photo

Storm Reid stars in “A Wrinkle in Time.” Disney photo

Ignore the box-office headlines about “Black Panther” dominating “A Wrinkle in Time” at the box office.

Yes, the commercial and critical juggernaut that is Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” has topped the domestic cinema list for the fourth consecutive week, relegating Ava DuVernay’s much-hyped adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s beloved young-adult book into second place.

But both movies are from Disney, which is winning with inclusion in 2018.

As previously reported, “Black Panther,” the 18th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has become no less than a pop culture phenomenon, with people heading to theaters in droves to see the rare film boasting both an African-American director and a predominantly black cast, including several dynamic women characters. As Entertainment Weekly reports, “Black Panther” crossed the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office this weekend, and domestically, the film has grossed about $562 million in just 24 days of release.

This weekend also marks the first time in recent memory, and possibly ever, that films by black directors have claimed the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on the same weekend, according to EW.com.

And it’s doubtful that two movies with more diverse and inclusive casts have ever topped the domestic box office. Not only does DuVernay’s adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time” boast a female protagonist – as previously reported, females comprised only 24 percent of protagonists in 2017’s 100 top-grossing films, down from 29 percent in 2016 – but a black female protagonist in Storm Reid as young heroine Meg Murry. And she isn’t the only woman of color in the cast, with Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling and Gugu Mbatha-Raw also playing key roles.

Although “A Wrinkle in Time” looks to end its debut weekend with $33.3 million, which as Deadline Hollywood reports is a soft opening in comparison to its $100 million-plus production cost, it’s not like Disney is hurting for money. Although DuVernay’s take on L’Engle’s Newberry Medal-winning 1962 novel drew mixed reviews – it currently sits at 42 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, compared to “Black Panther’s” 97 percent positive notices – the family-friendly film’s opening was cannily positioned right before schools go on spring break. So, the PG-rated adventure should have the opportunity to make up at least some ground.

Even if “A Wrinkle in Times” underperforms, the Mouse House gambled on diversity and inclusion and it’s winning. Sure, “Black Panther” was a fairly safe bet, since it’s part of the blockbuster MCU – especially since the clever minds at Marvel introduced Chadwick Boseman’s kingly superhero in 2016’s hero-mashup “Captain America: Civil War” and were able to gauge audience response in advance of launching T’Challa’s first standalone movie – but remember, Hollywood still hasn’t proven from its cinematic output that its completely sold on diverse casting as a moneymaking proposition, despite a mounting slew of evidence.

From left, Lupita Nyong'o, Chadwick Boseman and Letitia Wright star in "Black Panther." Marvel Studios photo

From left, Lupita Nyong’o, Chadwick Boseman and Letitia Wright star in “Black Panther.” Marvel Studios photo

“I’ll tell you right now. We are not going to be number one this weekend because there is a cultural movement that is so important to me and so many people called ‘Black Panther’ and it is still moving and breathing in the world,” DuVernay said in a New York Times TimesTalks, per The Hollywood Reporter.

“I am not crying over spilt milk, I’m texting Ryan and saying, ‘Yo, you made $99 million this weekend,” the Oscar-nominated filmmaker added. “As an artist, I can’t be concerned with the first three days at the box office.”

“A Wrinkle in Time” was an even greater risk for Disney, since the book is beloved but has long been considered virtually impossible to adapt. As I noted in my review, DuVernay became the first woman of color to ever helm a live-action film with a more than $100 million budget with “Wrinkle,” and she deserves kudos for turning a seemingly unfilmable book into a visually exquisite adventure that is by turns funny, exciting and thoughtful, with an inspiring message and a dynamic young heroine.

“A couple of people told me, ‘this might not be the right next move because it’s unadaptable. You’re not going to be able to make a film that’s a hit out of this book,’” DuVernay said “But I fell in love with Meg. I saw myself in her. I saw so many girls in her and I wanted her to exist.”

Despite the positives she brought to the film, I was disappointed in DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time.” While I fondly remember “A Wrinkle in Time” as one of the first books I read that didn’t talk down to me, the movie version skews younger and replaces much of the grown-up dialogue with rah-rah platitudes like “Be a warrior” and “Become one with the universe and yourself.” The film’s narrative is choppy and graceless, with wild tonal shifts and an internal logical that too often seems faulty.

But for my 11-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter, “A Wrinkle in Time” was a thrilling cinematic voyage, one that got them excited to read my childhood favorite, so I’m not sorry that we saw it and have recommended it to other families with children looking to see a movie over spring break.

Director Ava DuVernay, left, guides actor Storm Reid through a scene for the upcoming film "A Wrinkle in Time." Disney photo

Director Ava DuVernay, left, guides actor Storm Reid through a scene for the upcoming film “A Wrinkle in Time.” Disney photo

And Hollywood still makes precious few action movies centered on women and girls, much less women and girls of color, so it’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“I feel as if it’s important, because we need to be represented,” Reid told the Los Angeles Times. “This movie and Meg are representing black girls in a way where they don’t have to be the superhero or the best friend or the comic relief. They can be the lead and save the world, even though they’re black and have curly hair and glasses and they aren’t perfect.

“Representing young black girls and giving them hope and the light and letting them know that they can do anything is important to me as a little black girl too.”

This idea of a black girl leading a group of boys, DuVernay told the LA Times, “is my life every day.”

“I lead on these sets, and I’m dealing with all kinds of people that are not used to that,” she said. “It’s a new muscle that they have to exercise to look at me and hear what I’m saying, respect that I know what I’m doing and go and do that. It’d be a lot easier if they were trained as young boys to know that was OK to do.

“So as much as this is a story for our girls, it’s a story for everyone who aren’t our girls to know that our girls can do this.”

Oprah Winfrey appears in a scene from the 2018 film "A Wrinkle in Time." Disney photo

Oprah Winfrey appears in a scene from the 2018 film “A Wrinkle in Time.” Disney photo

Even if her “Wrinkle” turns out to be a box-office letdown, here’s hoping that Disney won’t punish DuVernay – and worse, all women filmmakers or movies about women – as we’ve seen too often become the case in the past. As previously reported, at the same time DuVernay was working as the helmer on “A Wrinkle in Time,” Disney hired Niki Caro to direct its live-action remake of the Chinese fable “Mulan,” and Anna Boden to helm 2019′s “Captain Marvel” with directing partner Ryan Fleck, marking the first time in Hollywood history that more than one female filmmaker been at the helm of a feature with a budget of $100 million or more.

In an interview with EW, Kevin Feige, mastermind of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, said that in addition to the no-brainer “Black Panther” sequel, “there’s lots of potential” for possible spinoff films featuring some of Wakanda’s inspiring female characters, like T’Challa’s sister, Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), a brilliant teenage scientist who has developed many groundbreaking inventions, and Okoye (Danai Gurira), the mighty leader of the Dora Milaje, the king’s all-woman secret service and intelligence force.

“It’s a balance between leaving people wanting more and then giving them too much, but I would watch a movie about any of those characters you just named. I think Shuri’s astounding, and you’ll see much more of her in our universe. Okoye, I think I’d watch three action films just Okoye. I’m not saying we’re doing that, but I’m saying that we’re intrigued by them. Frankly, as I’ve said before, finishing these first 22 movies is really all we’re thinking about at this point,” Feige said.

He also said he anticipates the MCU will have more women and people of color behind and in front of the camera in the future.

“I think we’re seeing it shift from a very purposeful initiative to just a fact of life, to just a way of doing business,” Feige told EW. “Then there are people we hired that we’re not ready to announce in all different capacities, particularly behind the camera. As ‘Panther’ has so loudly declared, [representation] can only help you, can only help you tell unique stories, can only help you do things in a new, and unique, and fresh, and exciting way. If you do that, audiences will notice it, and appreciate it, and support it.”



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