Ava DuVernay Smooths Out Hope For a Great Version of A Wrinkle in Time

By  · Published on February 24th, 2016

Following offers and rumors of offers to direct Marvel movies, namely Black Panther and Captain Marvel, Selma writer-director Ava DuVernay has finally found a major genre property to take on, for the same studio that houses those superhero titles. According to Deadline, she’s confirmed for the gig helming A Wrinkle in Time for Disney.

The adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s award-winning sci-fi/fantasy novel for children could possibly kick off a series, given that its characters appear in eight more books, though not in a continuous, overlapping narrative. This wouldn’t be a smooth succession of movies along the lines of, say, Harry Potter. And it’s unclear if Disney even sees franchise potential here.

Looking at the singular project, which in the past has been reported to be modestly budgeted, it’s an exciting one in that it’ll be primarily steered by women. DuVernay will be working from a script by Jennifer Lee, the co-writer of Disney animated features Wreck-It Ralph, Zootopia and Frozen, which she also co-directed. And its main character is a teenage girl, who with her younger siblings is in search of their missing father. When Lee got the job, she stressed that it would be strongly a female-driven narrative.

While not a comic book movie, A Wrinkle in Time will take the director into similar territory of space and time travel and strange supernatural creatures with special powers. Also, the idea of a disappeared scientist father is familiar in superhero movies (see The Amazing Spider-Man) and plenty other works of sci-fi and fantasy (see also Disney’s own Tron Legacy).

It’s been almost 30 years since I read the book, in elementary school, so I’m a bit hazy on details, but I can recall it being the first really complicated genre fiction I’d encountered. And in my memory it’s still something of such complex imagination that a movie version is sure to be difficult to get right. “A Wrinkle in Time” has been adapted before, as a TV movie in 2003, without much favor from fans or the author.

DuVernay is an interesting choice because she doesn’t have a sci-fi or fantasy background (discounting her early years doing publicity for some genre films), and hopefully that means she’ll be approaching A Wrinkle in Time not as a visual effects vehicle but with focus on the characters and the dramatic elements of the story rather than the surreal spectacle.

This is great for YA genre movies. I can’t help but liken DuVernay to the “Wrinkle in Time” character Mrs. Whatsit, a former star (in the celestial sense) that sacrificed itself in a fight against an abstract representation of pure evil called The Black Thing. The filmmaker could probably continue doing more serious dramas or historical films but she’s giving up that distinction to fight against there being more bad mainstream YA movies. Hopefully she’ll retain all respectability anyway.

As Deadline notes, DuVernay also has another sci-fi project on the table. She’s been offered the job directing Intelligent Life, from a comedic script by Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow (who was going to direct before getting the Star Wars Episode IX gig) and Derek Connolly. That one, which could possibly be done before A Wrinkle in Time, would star Lupita Nyong’o and involves an interspecies romance between a human working for the UN, in a division focused on potential extraterrestrial visitation, and an alien in disguise.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.