At Disney’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” premiere, a gaggle of up-and-coming indie filmmakers were hanging out—David Lowery (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”), Ava DuVernay (“Selma”), Colin Trevorrow (“Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Jurassic World”) and Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station,” “Creed”). It seems Disney has been matching indie filmmakers with choice properties of late.
Lowery’s live-action take on classic “Pete’s Dragon” is coming up (August 12), and now DuVernay (“Selma”), having passed on Disney-owned Marvel’s “Black Panther” (Coogler is doing the honors), has succumbed to six months of courting by Disney and will work with writer Jennifer Lee (writer co-director of “Frozen” ) on Disney’s adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1963 Newbery Medal winning sci-fi classic “A Wrinkle in Time,” per Deadline.
The timeless young adult bestseller follows young Meg Murry and her discovery of time travel via tesseract as she searches for her missing scientist father. Thus it is welcome news that these two gifted filmmakers are collaborating on yet another literary franchise with strong appeal to women (see “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent”)—it is the first in L’Engle’s “Time Quartet” series (“A Wind in the Door,” “Many Waters,” “A Swiftly Tilting Planet”). In 2003, after a long development period with the Weinsteins, the book was finally adapted as a Canadian TV series by Disney-owned Miramax, later shown in truncated form on ABC. (The long version is on the DVD, with a rare interview with L’Engle.)
Disney retained the rights and now DuVernay and Lee can do this great book thoughtful justice. If put on the screen the right way, L’Engle’s intersecting worlds centering on two families could sustain multiple ongoing stories. There are high stakes in “A Wrinkle in Time,” as Meg Murry has to figure out how to fight darkness with light. A practicing Episcopalian who taught writing at Manhattan’s St. Hilda’s and St. Hughes School and worked at the library at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, L’Engle always threaded religious themes through her books. (I was fortunate enough to know her.)
DuVernay has had an admirable career trajectory, managing her own distribution and marketing company, directing a series of music docs followed by $200,000 Sundance prize-winner “Middle of Nowhere” in 2012, starring David Oyelowo, and moving on to ESPN’s “30 for 30” series and $20-million period biopic “Selma” starring Oyelowo as Martin Luther King. Thanks to DuVernay’s promotion chops, she’s an able tweeter (@avaetc) about all sorts of things and people, not just her own projects, and tireless campaigner for the cause of inclusion. She’s currently shooting a TV series for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN, “Queen Sugar,” based on the novel by Natalie Baszile.