The media is trying to put it in competition with Black Panther
Comparing A Wrinkle In Time and Black Panther is useful to a point. Both films were made by Disney, opened in the first quarter of 2018, and, crucially, were directed by up and coming African American filmmakers. What has been unacceptable to watch is the sloppy, mean way in which the media has attempted to paint the films in competition. The picture is far more complex than saying one movie is better than the other – and leaves no space for something white directors are afforded all the time: mediocrity.
In the past few days, a few outlets have released problematic headlines, including “A Wrinkle in Time Can’t Slow Black Panther at Weekend Box Office”, and “Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time losing to Black Panther”. Purely because of the race of the filmmakers in question, and the fact that the films’ have diverse casts, there is an underlying message of tokenism here that would have happened regardless of the content of the movies.
What we should be talking about how great it is that the two top film openings of the year have been directed by black people. Forbes reports this weekend that Black Panther crossed $1 billion in ticket sales worldwide yesterday, becoming only the 33rd film ever to cross this financial marker, while A Wrinkle In Time has held down solid ticket sales of $34 million (£25 million).
“At present, Black Panther is being hailed as an example of black excellence, A Wrinkle in Time as a black failure”
As DuVernay said herself on the fact that A Wrinkle In Time wasn’t beating Black Panther at the box office: “We are not going to be #1 this weekend because there is a cultural movement that is so important to me and so many people called #BlackPanther — and it is still moving and breathing in the world”.
Both DuVernay and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler set an excellent example for the world to follow: they have been relentlessly supportive of each other’s movies. Coogler describes DuVernay as his “sister” and even penned an ode on to her on the day A Wrinkle in Time opened, calling her an inspiration. “A Wrinkle in Time is… a movie that explodes with hope, with love and with women warrior,” he wrote.
Identity does matter when it comes to art. The world of black filmmaking is so small that DuVernay was actually approached and turned down directing Black Panther in 2015 due to “creative differences” before Coogler. But their movies are incomparable beyond this context because their content is so different. One is an adaptation of a 1960s sci-fi children’s book, aimed at children – the other is a comic book-based superhero film, aimed at all ages. And yet at present, one movie is being hailed as an example of black excellence, the other as black failure.
Now, within the black community, I dispute the idea that we shouldn’t politely call out mistakes when we see them. Just like we discussed the fact that Spike Lee’s Netflix remake of She’s Gotta Have It had “all the ingredients to be a good show but was executed badly”, critical dissemination of work by black filmmakers we respect is a necessity.
Overall, I didn't enjoy A Wrinkle In Time. My main bugbear was that the editing was off – meaning that characters are shown moving in the wrong directions in shots and speaking when their mouths aren't moving – and the fact that the storyline felt rushed. But I also found problems with Black Panther. It’s far from a perfect film, which, as argued particularly strongly by academic Kehinde Andrews, “remains at heart a movie that perpetuates the status quo, which is defined by Whiteness”.
“Black women are rarely allowed to make mistakes, whereas white-man directors like Michael Bay can churn out million-dollar trash”
Fundamentally, however, I am ecstatic that we are finally seeing glimpses of the representation we deserve onscreen. Parts of both movies were utterly magnificent, beautifully shot, and had little touches (such as Storm Reid’s character washing her natural hair in a stream), which spoke to me deeply. The brilliance of black film in this present moment is indisputable. We shouldn’t hold all our stock in awards ceremonies, but just look around you: Get Out and Moonlight winning at the Oscars is just the beginning.
True equality will be partially reached when we reach the stage where a black woman filmmaker is allowed to produce a movie like A Wrinkle in Time which isn’t beloved by (nearly) all people like Black Panther is, and still continue to be ‘trusted’ and respected by the old white men who tend to helm institutions like Disney to make big-budget work, instead of being put in competition by the media with her black peers.
A Wrinkle in Time makes DuVernay only the fourth woman to solo-direct a movie with a budget of over $100 million and the first black woman ever to do so. I worry that despite her credentials – having directed the brilliant movie Selma, TV series Queen Sugar and powerful documentary 13th – this might put a dent in her armour. History speaks for itself: black women given ‘opportunities’ are rarely allowed to make mistakes, whereas white men like director Michael Bay can churn out million-dollar trash any day of the week.
As written by Edward Ademolu for Media Diversified: “Black minorities must do at least twice as much – and thrice as well, as their white peers to achieve the utopia of racialised and racial-gendered equilibrium – or some version of, or allusion to it, at the very least.” Celebrating black mediocrity then, or at least accepting that black filmmaking will have imperfections as part of its overall brilliance, is a quick-step forward we need to take.