Ava DuVernay Discusses Her Stepfather’s Deep, Unexpected Influence on ‘A Wrinkle in Time’

By Sameer Rao Mar 01, 2018

Ava DuVernay understands how important her film adaptation of "A Wrinkle in Time" is in an entertainment industry that still needs economic proof that films with diverse leading casts can profit. But as she told The New York Times today (March 1), that doesn’t matter to her. 

"I don’t care. I don’t feel pressure about the whole first, blah blah blah," she said about being the first Black woman to helm a film with a $100 million budget. "I know it’s $100 million for the studio. They’ll be fine. Ryan’s made sure of that for me," she added in reference to friend Ryan Coogler, who found record-breaking success by directing a Black cast in "Black Panther." 

DuVernay instead cares about her personal connections to the movie, which hits theaters on March 9. The Times noted that her stepfather, Murray Maye, died as she was about to start production in 2016. She channeled her grief into the film, which follows Meg Murray (Storm Reid, “12 Years a Slave”) as she searches for her father Dr. Murray (Chris Pine, “Wonder Woman”) after his sudden disappearance. DuVernay struggled with the similarity between the two men’s names, and The Times said she would only refer to the character as "the father." 

“I feel like the film is looking for him in a way,” she said about her stepfather. “And that’s why I don’t care what anybody thinks about it." 

DuVernay and others connected to the film also spoke to The Times about the movie’s casting. Reid described the importance of her character’s race and path in the following passage: 

Ms. Reid, who has been acting since she was 3, understood the impact this role could have on other girls. “I do a feel a sense of responsibility, like that I have to keep them uplifted and I have to keep inspiring them,” she said. 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.”

Co-star Oprah Winfrey (“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”) echoed the sentiment:

"I grew up in an era where there was absolutely zero, minus, images” of girls like her in pop culture, she said. “So I do imagine, to be a Brown-skinned girl of any race throughout the world, looking up on that screen and seeing Storm, I think that is a capital A, capital W, E, some, AWESOME, experience,” she added by phone. “I think this is going to be a wondrous marvel of an experience for girls that in the future they will just take for granted.”

DuVernay explained the intention that was behind the casting of the film’s White characters. Per The Times:

The inclusive casting of Meg and the three guides got the attention, but Ms. DuVernay spent as much time obsessing over the role of Calvin, Meg’s friend, played by the Australian actor Levi Miller. She chose him, in part, she said, “because that was so powerful, to show a White boy following a Black girl through the movie.

“I’ve never seen that,” Ms. DuVernay continued. “I mean, I have a crew of thousands of people, and it’s not lost on me that I have White men coming up to me all day long like, ‘What do I do?’ And in my early career, there’s some White men that have a problem with that, a problem with even asking me what to do, and taking my direction and believing that I know what I’m saying, because they have no context for even seeing it.”

Walt Disney Studios executive vice president Tendo Nagenda confirmed that this casting decision helped sell "A Wrinkle in Time" to the studio, saying, “Once she presented it like that, it was one of those things where you couldn’t see the film any other way.”