“I feel like we’re making a movement and it’s so powerful,” says Storm Reid, the 14-year-old star of Disney’s upcoming A Wrinkle in Time. The film, helmed by Ava DuVernay, is the first with a $100m budget directed by an African American female; it might also be the first time a white protagonist in a young adult sci-fi has become a black girl on screen (the film is adapted from a 1962 novel by Madeleine L’Engle). “We’re all inspiring girls of colour and African American people to see that they’re powerful, and to know they can be on screen – that they are not just a stereotype and they can be so much more powerful than they see and believe.”
For Reid, there’s no shortage of thrill about being able to inspire young girls such as herself. Her social media is stocked full of motivational quotes about self-love and appreciating individuality, as well as playful glimpses into the life of a prodigy: a post about her iconic Time magazine cover in January (which she dedicates to her grandma), featuring co-stars Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling, is sandwiched between silly pictures of her as a kid, or dancing to Rihanna in the car. Reid is, in a word, adorable, despite being at the forefront of a shift in Hollywood with wide-reaching implications – a shift that even took her by surprise.
“I was shocked that I even got the opportunity to audition for A Wrinkle in Time,” says the Georgia-born actress, explaining that “Meg Murry is a Caucasian girl in the book”. But with Ava DuVernay – whose last film, 13th, explored the racism built into the American prison system – at the helm of the project, representation was key. “I’m kind of sick of going to films and only seeing things one way,” the director explained at a Teen Vogue summit in LA last year, speaking on a panel with Reid and co-star Rowan Blanchard about diversity in Hollywood. With A Wrinkle in Time, DuVernay set out to dismantle narrow portrayals of race, age and even body size: “We all came together to make a film about representation and showing the world the way it really is.” Ironically, perhaps, it took an out-of-this-world, totally fantastical film to do so.
In the film, as in the original novel, a young Meg Murry – characterised as a troubled, insecure child – sets out to find her scientist father, Dr Alex Murry (played by Chris Pine), who is being held captive by dark forces in a distant corner of the universe. In her search, Meg enlists the help of her brother Charles (Deric McCabe), classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) and three celestial beings – Mrs Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs Which (Oprah Winfrey) – who challenge Meg to defeat a dark evil called ‘IT’. Though the story centres around Meg’s journey to find her father, as Reid describes it, the film is just as much about Meg finding herself. “Meg has gone through so much during the four years that her dad has been missing,” she explains. “She’s just not self-accepting, and she doesn’t love herself. On her journey, she becomes one with the light and the universe to be able to save her father and fight the darkness.”
Reid began honing her acting skills at the tender age of three, inspired by films such as Shrek and Matilda. “She could move objects with her eyes!” she enthuses of Roald Dahl’s telekinetic heroine. “I thought, ‘I’m going to do that one day.’” In turn, says Reid, she wants to encourage other girls to follow their ambitions. “I could inspire other little African American girls – not only to act, but to do anything they want to do… To save the world!” At the Teen Vogue event, DuVernay even compared Reid’s performance in the film to David Oyelowo’s representation of Dr Martin Luther King Jr in her 2014 drama Selma, a role which earned Oyelowo multiple awards and nominations. The comparison was telling, given the director’s political aims for her first foray into Disney.
“I feel like we’re making a movement and it’s so powerful’’ — Storm Reid
In many ways, the evil forces at work in A Wrinkle in Time are a mirror to the state of the world through the eyes of Reid and other young women today. “We have an ‘IT’ in the book and the movie and in the world right now,” says Reid, remarking on social and political unrest in the US, including widespread cases of sexual assault and an uprising of racial, religious and sexual bigotry. The challenges Meg faces to find her strength and own her power against immeasurable odds are in line with those facing Reid as an actress in an often predatory and alienating industry, and a world divided along racial lines – a reality Reid first learned as a child on the set of 12 Years a Slave.
“It was a big transformation,” says Reid of playing the part of Emily, the child of a slave and her master who ends up a captive herself, when she was just nine years old. At the time, she had never even heard of slavery. “To see the segregation between African American people and Caucasian people was something new to me, and I was shocked. I just didn’t know what to think, because I thought everyone was together – we are all together, we’re all united. When we wrapped (on the film), it opened my eyes to what was going on in the world.” With the help of her sister and mother, she grew hungry to fill the gaps on subjects she wasn’t learning about in school, like police brutality in the US and the suspicious death of Sandra Bland in 2015. “I think 12 Years a Slave really helped me as a person and as a student to grow.” Since then, the self-professed “opinionated little person” has carved out a path for herself as an activist, speaking out on issues like bullying, racism and anti-immigration xenophobia.
“I haven’t been afraid to speak my mind with anything and I have always stood up for what I believe in,” says Reid. For this, she credits her strong Christian faith and the guidance that she’s obtained from fearless women such as her mother – “My mom taught us, ‘Don’t care about what other people think. Don’t be a follower, be a leader” – as the drivers behind her deep sense of self.
“I just see that Miss Ava is a go-getter and doesn’t take no for an answer,” says Reid. “Miss Ava, Miss Oprah, Rowan Blanchard and God; they’re all inspirations due to the work that they’ve put in and through the great people they are.” (Like many teenagers, Reid makes sense of her idols by freely conflating them in a single gang.) She’s also got her mustard-seed bracelet – a combination of a bracelet she received as a wrap gift for one of her upcoming films, a sci-fi thriller starring David Oyelowo called Only You (set for release in late 2018), and a mustard-seed charm given to her by her mum two years ago. The charm features a Bible script, Matthew 17:20. “In the Bible, it’s said that if you have faith as small as a grain of a mustard seed, God will move mountains,” says Reid. “It means if you have faith this small then God’s got your back.” She wears it every day.
At 14, Reid displays levels of confidence, ability and awareness that surpass most adults. “I actually had somebody ask me, ‘If you could be a superhero, what would your name be?’” she says. “I said ‘Storm!’ I do think it’s a powerful name – I just hope people will remember it in an inspiring way. That’s my job. I’m not going to go be whatever society wants me to be, or what society thinks little African American girls should be… You don’t have to fit in. Nobody else is going to be you; nobody else is going to be Storm. You just have to make it through, and not forget yourself, and say, ‘I am that thing.’” For instance, the lead actress in a film set to redefine what Disney heroines do, what they say – and who they represent. “I’m gonna take this world by storm,” she laughs. “Pun unintended.”
Hair Vernon François at Artists & Company using Vernon François, make-up Samuel Paul at Forward Artists using Marc Jacobs Beauty, photography assistant John Maxwell, styling assistants Johanna Andersson, Rebecca Perlmutar, local production Rebecca Hearn at Henri Collective.