A Life of Loving ‘A Wrinkle in Time’

& The Critical Importance of #BlackMeg…

By Atena O. Danner

I was an unhappy child, while also being a very happy child. I was very creative, and my parents encouraged this in me every step of the way. I was allowed to feed my hunger to draw and paint, make jewelry, attempt to make clothes in a variety of ways, from handknitting, to cutting up garments and taping them back together scotch tape. This was all a pretty delightful existence. At around 12, I discovered something that I called “wild gardening” which amounted to cultivating the various plants but I found growing wild in our Georgia backyard. I would dig them up, arrange them, and replant them; I made little irrigation ditches around the swingset. I still remember the light in the trees and the red clay dirt in my hair. My most consistent source of entertainment, though, was books. To say I was an avid reader is an understatement. I had dozens, and dozens of books which I happily read over and over again. I read confidently and with gusto, stack after stack of juvenile fiction, comic books, Readers Digest, mysteries, encyclopedias, National Geographic. Stories about smart young girls were the best.

This was all my interior life. I was loved, cared for, and entertained in ways that were both enriching and satisfying. What more could you ask for?

Well… Friends. More specifically, closeness and trust in friendships.

I was not friendless as a child, but I had few friends. My deepest friendships for schoolmates, and I was bussed to and from a far away magnet school, or at times simply lived far away from the school attended. I didn’t grow up with after-school play dates. Very few weekend sleepovers — mostly for birthday parties. As a kid, I could always find someone to hang around, maybe play with — what my mom would refer to as “running buddies.” The complicated thing about that, was that I was a child with a perfect storm of low social capital; I was not a cool kid. I was pretty decidedly uncool. Things that were socially important to other people, were conundrums to me: creating and managing a social hierarchy (often determined by hair texture/skin tone), perfectly straight hair (opposite of mine), expensive clothes and shoes (not a chance!), trading insults as entertainment (I was terrible at this, and as sensitive as a trembling orchid), and later, watching boys do interesting things, but not doing them myself (I had done this to excess growing up with five brothers and found it aggressively dull). The running buddies I had were not really loyal, and might distance from-, or betray me based on any of my many flaws. I hated it, but still chose those imperfect friends over total isolation. I had companionship, but little closeness and trust.

So my social life was unhappy at worst, and limited at best. But my inner life where creativity and books reigned kept me afloat. Books were well known, and reliable. If I didn’t like them, we could part amicably with no worry of whispered insults or rumors. They wouldn’t reveal my crushes, or ignore me for the favor of cooler friends.

So, books were my best friends. My most predictable, present friends. And one day, I was captivated by the cover of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ by Madeleine L’Engle (I have zero qualms about Judging books by their covers, by the way), and I took the slim paperback featuring a bald, ivory Pegasus with rainbow wings home to become my new best friend. And my instant chemistry and connection with Meg Murry sealed the deal.

Meg Murry was stubborn. She knew she was odd, but she could live with it. I loved how she resented her teachers as I did, and I loved that she did not chase after the approval of pretty popular girls (as I sometimes did, and felt ashamed about). I was inspired by her obstinance. Meg knew that she was smart, and was insecure about her looks. I clung to my intelligence as my one of only two provable qualities that I possessed (the other being my creativity), and was deeply insecure about my looks, with a beautiful mother who told me I was beautiful. Like Meg, I didn’t believe my mother when she said this, either. Meg had bad moods, and was awkward and grumpy, but also fiercely loving and didn’t always know where her father was, but knew that he loved and understood her.

Meg and her story were among my closest companions for years. My memories of the story are from the inside of it: From the Murry’s attic and the kitchen, and from breathing flowers in the thin atmosphere, and from the First Dimension, and from the endless, alarming grey of the bureaucratic center of Camazots.

Fast forward 25 years: My daughter has long since read the graphic novel version of the story. Ava DuVernay is on the scene and I am excitedly watching the trailer for A Wrinkle In Time. The music is scintillating, the images are beautiful, and my world rocks and reels and I am spinning to realize that I am seeing Meg. And that Meg is black.

Meg is black.

I was honest to God un. done. Black Meg? Black Meg! I exclaimed it aloud: “Black Meg!!!”

I knew this girl already. I had known her for years. And as closely as I related to her, I had never even imagined her this way. It would not have occurred to me to imagine that this girl who was me in so many ways could really be me.

#BlackMeg made so much sense, and my mind put her story together with this new lens in an instant. (Remember when fans figured out how Hermione might be black? It was like that, but in my deepest soul). The social rejection, the disbelief in her brilliance, the seemingly unfair discipline at school, the whispers and snide comments about her parents, the complexity... #BlackMeg added up in my head to perfection, and I wept to have this story come full circle in this way for me. Seeing this vision of something I thought I knew so well so differently, so richly, has added a new depth and dimension to my imagination, because it has tapped into a deep, deep root, and shown how there were resources as of yet unseen and they were always there to be had. I just needed to think of them.

This is, in a way, a painful realization. That the world had shaped me in such a way as to have previously been unable to cross this peculiar border of the imagination. And that this interpretation of the character could rock me so hard, and so deep, as to take me into my childhood, and soothe the girl who still lives and hurts there… It was a true moment of time travel that I felt in every cell of my being. My God. What a simple, profound miracle.

#BlackMeg is just the beginning of a long-needed balm for us awkward black girls, not because movies define our worth, but because everyone wants to be known to exist, and to have the option to consider being a hero. Movies are an important part of our cultural mirror, for good or ill. It is time to see the humanity of awkward black girls. Not hilariously awkward black girls, but the quietly, painfully awkward ones who struggle against a world that would erase us for not caring about being conventionally pretty, or funny, or even sassy. The ones who don’t have the social capital to trade, but still have the nerve to look you in the eye, consequences be damned. Dark skinned black girls with short hair. Angry and sullen black girls. Fat black girls who refuse to accept ridicule and jokes at their expense. Black girls who aren’t fun to be around, who have their own intrinsic gifts that they may not ever share with you. These girls are in danger, regularly being either rejected or ignored, which also means unprotected. These girls can be among our most vulnerable. We must let them know that they are seen and known and loved. Let those black girls know that they matter.

I can’t wait to see the movie, though I’ve already gotten so much from my own imagination of it.

Keep telling our stories, y’all. We always have, but the scale and quality are expanding, and it is powerful medicine. Black stories matter to our healing and our wholeness. It’s time.