Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time, are currently the top films to see anywhere around the world with one thing in common – young black girl characters who are genius science wizzes and play important roles in the fate of their worlds. Directed by Ryan Coogler and Ava DuVernay, respectively.
DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time is based on the 1962 novel by Madeleine L’Engel — centers on the protagonist Meg, played by Storm Reid. She’s a quirky, curly-haired teen who leads a mission throughout the far reaches of the universe to find her missing father. In the beginning of the film, Meg is a troubled student who hasn’t been the same since her father’s disappearance. But by the story’s end, she completes her undertaking using her knack for physics and guidance from three other-worldly, magical beings known as the “Misses” — Mrs. Whatsit, played by Reese Witherspoon; Mrs. Who, played by Mindy Kaling; and Mrs. Which, played by Oprah Winfrey.
Meanwhile, one of the breakouts from Marvel’s Black Panther is Shuri, played by Letitia Wright. Shuri hails from Wakanda, a fictional, futuristic African nation that’s hidden from the rest of society. She’s a witty 16-year-old who designs some of the advanced technology that powers Wakanda and supplies her brother T’Challa (a.k.a. Black Panther) with all sorts of gadgets and gear for his various expeditions. And despite already appearing in one of the year’s biggest box office successes, Shuri’s also slated to appear in the next Marvel behemoth, the forthcoming Avengers: Infinity War, due for release in April.
In Black Panther, Shuri is free from these limitations as a princess of Wakanda, a nation that has never been colonized by European societies. But in A Wrinkle in Time, Meg, who lives in an urban environment nowhere near the picture-perfect Wakanda, feels very much like an other. She’s bullied at school and when she fights back, she’s called to the principal’s office; during the meeting, the principal suggests that she move on from the idea that her father will ever come back. Despite the doubts of others, though, Meg believes she’ll see her dad again one day.
For all the positive reinforcement that these characters provide to young black girls, they can also have an effect on non-black audiences, too. Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time further normalize the idea of black girls playing strong characters in fantasy roles, instead of erasing them entirely or limiting their presence.