It’s the first time two big-budget films by black directors held the top two spots.
“Wrinkle” and Wakanda forever.
For the first time in box office history, the top two movies this past weekend were both helmed by black directors with mega budgets of more than $100 million — proving diversity doesn’t just sell; it excels.
The big screen take on “A Wrinkle in Time,” Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 fantasy bestseller, made just over $33 million its opening weekend to take the second-place spot. While modest compared to “Black Panther’s” early take-home, the sci-fi coming-of-age flick is a movie milestone reeling in well-deserved buzz.
The movie was the second most talked-about film on social media in the week of Feb. 19 according to data from comScore— just behind “Avengers: Infinity War,” expected to be the blockbuster of the summer. That’s also impressive because “Wrinkle” shares the limelight with “Black Panther’s” pulling power at the box office and the Academy Awards.
Why the buzz? Some of it is expected, given the Hollywood royalty that makes up the ensemble cast: Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Zach Galifianakis star along newcomer Storm Reid, who plays the lead character Meg Murray. They’re directed by Ava DuVernay, who was also behind the lens for critically acclaimed historical drama “Selma.”
“It’s a movie I think will do well given Oprah Winfrey’s very high presence in the film,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. “It’s kind of like with her book club. When Oprah gives her sign-off on anything, there’s an automatic built-in audience.”
“Wrinkle,” which tells the story of a young and smart, but occasionally insecure, girl who travels through the space-time continuum to find her missing father, is also drawing plaudits for ticking all the right checkboxes when it comes to gender, age and racial diversity. For one, DuVernay, who is black, has reportedly become the first woman of color to direct a movie that costs over $100 million. (The film has a budget of at least $103 million, according to the California Film Commission.)
Then, there’s the fact that the 64-year-old Winfrey is starring on the silver screen alongside the 14-year-old Reid, who was born when George W. Bush was President. Although opportunities have expanded for actresses above the age of 30, they’ve mostly been restricted to television. A recent analysis by San Diego State University found that just 13% of female characters cast were played by actresses over 50. While not the protagonist in “Wrinkle,” Winfrey stars as an ageless celestial who’s important to the progress of the play.
And finally, there’s the racial aspect. While the main character Meg was played by a white actress in a TV movie, Reid plays a Meg that’s of mixed black-white ethnicity. The movie also puts comedian Mindy Kaling, who is of South Asian descent, on similar footing as a celestial alongside Witherspoon, fresh off the critical acclaim of HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” and Winfrey. “Wrinkle” also marks Kaling’s first big role in a major motion picture.
“I think [L’Engle] would have been extremely happy that her message of hope and lightness and community is amplified in such a way,” says Léna Roy, a granddaughter of L’Engle who has seen the film, in an interview. “WIth books, we use our own imagination. When you have diversity of age, color and creed so amplified, how can other people not benefit from the vision?”
It also helps that the book, which has sold over 14 million copies since publication, was groundbreaking for its time. It was the first sci-fi bestseller written by a woman and featured a savvy but relatable girl as the lead. “Meg was my grandmother, and she was Meg,” says Roy, author of the recently published biography “Becoming Madeleine.” “She always said that the book was almost an aspirational hymn for the world she wanted to live in. Love for other people is what helps us to be light bearers today.”
This article was originally published on March 5, 2018 and has been updated with “A Wrinkle in Time’s” opening weekend sales.
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