A Hair Story: Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle In Time
Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle In Time was...weird for me. I know that, for the culture, we keep our silence if we hate something, because we still want it to do well. However, this prose is not to render judgement on whether the movie was good or bad, but rather to touch on one of the very many things that were thought provoking and some kinda wonderful. Honestly, if I were to render judgement I would likely say that when it first finished, I was not immediately pleased. But I was prepared to place blame anywhere else, including giving it to the original author of the book, though I know and have been told that this movie deviates from the book. However, the more I allow myself to actively reflect on this movie, and the more I speak about it with friends, the more my opinion of the movie evolves. There is certainly something to be said about processing a movie with Black women who, like me, enjoy drawing meaning from what we see. Please note, that there will definitely be some spoilers ahead. It cannot be helped with the topic I am choosing to focus on. If you are gonna keep reading, and hate to be spoiled, you are going to be mad. That is my final warning.
The use of hair in this movie was beautiful! Just to give some context, I did my whole doctoral dissertation on Afro-textured Hair. The 200 and something page dissertation focused on the meaning of hair in the Black community, but also gathered info about how hair can impact self esteem and sexual esteem. Self-identified Black women were able to talk about their hair journeys. They spoke about what made them return to natural hair. I recognized from there that there were several hair journeys to go. There is the journey that can help someone return to their natural hair, but then there is a journey of self-acceptance of that hair. Because like many a meme has said, lots of folks were hoping for that Tracee Ellis Ross hair, but did not have it. That’s why this writing focuses on the hair with a purpose to point out that having natural hair doesn’t necessarily mean self love and acceptance are automatic. The hairstyles in this movie were Ah-May-Zing! They show all kinds of hairstyles for the characters we see. I especially was fond of Oprah’s characters style and energy, unapologetically Black! She was clearly the one offering some sage wisdom and guidance to her long-lived counterpoints, but she was also serving up some great hair throughout! With that said, the real hair story and journey for me was with the main character, Meg. Her self love and journey seemed to play out with her tresses, and then went straight to the root, of the very essence of who she is.
Pretty early in the film Meg’s dad disappears. We catch up to Meg after it has been four years since his disappearance and see that she has had it rough, especially with bullying. What stuck out to me in that moment was that when Meg decides to stand up for herself, somewhat out of embarrassment from her brother being brave enough to do it, or maybe he gave her the courage, she gets in trouble for the way she lashes out. No one wants to talk about or acknowledge what has been going on for her, especially given that it is the four year anniversary of her father’s disappearance, because her grief over losing her father should have been over by now, right? But more than that, we continue to, in some ways, dismiss the power of words as a harmful action. Words were being wielded against her when we saw her at school, but because there is no physicality to them, they are dismissed as harmless or doubted as nonexistent. These things are worthy of note, because as a clinical Social Worker and therapist, I see Black women who have been told that their trauma somehow, does not matter or should have diminished on the prescribed amount of time (read: Eurocentric standards of grief). Almost all the characters are guilty of trying to rush her grief, but more than that, they are guilty of not understanding that hurts and pains can come anew when the anniversary of said point of pain returns. Dr. Ajita Robinson, a therapist in the Washington D.C. metro area, speaks so clearly on that, as do so many therapists of color that I am surprised we don’t think about it more. I am sure now that Oprah has done that interview on 60 minutes about trauma, things will change. People listen to Oprah. But I digress, this isn’t just about the bullying, this is about the hair. Her hair, for the most part is unrestrained in its natural beauty. It is boundlessly curly, a mane to be reckoned with. It is the hair of her mother, though somewhat less subdued, which I thought to be interesting, especially given the very natures of their personalities. In the four years since the disappearance, it seemed like Meg’s mother shrunk in on herself, while Meg acted out.
Anyway, after Meg’s lovely ball pass and show of violence, they have a young fellow, Calvin, over for dinner. Calvin seems to be enthralled by the very nature of Meg, maybe even seeing something in her that she cannot see herself. However, when he goes to compliment her hair, which I was happy to see that he kept his fingers to himself, she immediately rebuffed him, contradicted his statement, and put a restraining hand on her mane, as though embarrassed. She could not accept his compliment, because she did not believe it of herself. Her younger brother, the genius Charles Wallace, also saw something within her that was greatness, though she couldn’t accept it. That she doesn’t appear to be something special or worth effort is seemingly confirmed by the white Mrs Whatsit, played by Reese Witherspoon. She doubts from the start that Meg would even be of use on the journey and is often loud and hurtful in her assessment of Meg. The idea of Black women having to constantly prove their worth in the eyes of White people, is long as it is tiresome. If Mrs Whatsit was constantly questioning, Mrs Which, played by Oprah, was the one to spend her time knowing and filling the girl for every cup removed by the doubt in Whatsit words and eyes.
I am not gonna go into every single permutation, but the point is that as they go on their journey, Meg learns to appreciate some of the very quirky natures of herself that Charles Wallace has always loved, and that Calvin seemed to admire and appreciate from the start. Just as she is getting a grip, which is confirmed because we see that she is finally able to accept a compliment from Calvin about her hair, the rug is pulled from beneath her. The one who has always seen her worth and defended it, Charles Wallace, no longer sees it and becomes just as scathing, if not more in his genius, as some of the girls she dealt with in school. After finding her father, who was more than willing to leave a changed Charles Wallace behind, she confronts her brother and herself.
She is presented with who she could be. This version of her wears clothes that are stripped of her personality, stands in a way that is confident bordering on cocky, while still holding people at bay, but most importantly, has long straight hair, that I am sure helps to buy her way into the crowds that do the bullying, not get bullied. When presented with the opportunity to be the someone else she has longed to be since the beginning of the movie, she decides against it--as violently as the ball to the face of the mean girl earlier in the movie. And in the moment, Meg finally sees and accepts her worth. Her acceptance of herself, her WHOLE self, faults are all, and that she is deserving of the love she almost seemed to dismiss as a young child's naivety (from Charles Wallace), is what saves them both. Recognizing that she is worthy of love (period!) not despite her faults, but because of them. Because everything that is great and terrible about a person is what makes them who they are. Because those bits are what mold you and help you grow and change. Because, lashing out when you are hurt, doesn’t make you unworthy of love.
This is the story that Black girls need. This is the story that helps to heal the mothers, grandmothers, and aunties while giving a map to the daughters and nieces. We already know that hurt people, hurt people. Maybe this is the story that starts the healing and moves us on the road to self acceptance. The place where we can be our most quirky selves, recognize what has hurt us and how we may have changed for it, take up space both in body and hair, and be who we are without apology.
If you're asking why it took me so long to release this...it's cause *shurg* A Wrinkle In Time will release on June 5th to DVD and Blu Ray Dassit. *shrug*
BTW: it is not too late to register for SEX TALK: PARENT EDITION! Just like this post is about sex(uality), so too is the webinar. Learn when, how, and what to say in those convos with the kids and teen.