On a gloomy day in February of last year, I was invited to visit the set of Ava DuVernay’s upcoming film, A Wrinkle In Time, shot on a Disney lot in Santa Clarita, California. It was only my second day living in Los Angeles, and I felt like this visit was a promising glimpse of things to come in my new city. Plus, when you love the book it’s based on and Oprah is involved, you go.
When I arrived on set with a few other journalists, we were introduced to producer Catherine Hand, who has made the screen adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time her life’s work. Hand told us that she fell in love with the book as child, and shared the thirty-year journey it took for the movie to find a home. Already this early in the day, it was obvious that there was a lot of love put into this film, about a book whose story of love and adventure means a lot to many people around the world. We were treated to a full presentation of the vivid story boards, each one a brilliant display of colors, other-worldly creatures, and costumes which we would be lucky to see and feel firsthand later on in our visit.
After our chat with Hand, we were brought down to an intricate backyard set, where Storm Reid (Meg Murry) and the other young cast were shooting a scene (a first kiss!) While we watched huddled behind the monitors and wearing headphones, Chris Pine popped in to speak a bit about how he got involved with Wrinkle, admitting that he was not sure if this would be his next project, but that it only took about fifteen minutes of him speaking with DuVernay to change his mind. After we all spoke to her at the end of the day, I totally understand why.
We soon moved to a larger tent, greeted by tons of friendly crew, production people and staff, all of whom were strikingly very diverse in age, ethnicity, and gender. After grabbing a few snacks, an assistant hurried over to tell us Oprah Winfrey was coming. Honestly, all I wanted to do was call my mami to tell her I was about to meet Oprah. (Instead, I texted her lots of shocked face emojis and nonsense.) She arrived in her full Mrs. Which costume, wearing a billowing metallic dress, geometric (crinkled) hair, and silver lipstick. She carefully walked up to each one of us, shook our hand, looked us in the eye and asked our name. When it was my turn, she repeated my name in three slow syllables, making sure to get it exactly right. It was magical.
She told us a bit about her take on Mrs. Which helping Meg, and the overall themes of the story. “The lines that I’m doing today, when she first appears before Meg, she says, ‘You just have to have the right frequency.’ That’s really what the film is about… It is your flow in life,” she explained. “So Mrs. Which is here to teach Meg how to do that. How to line up with the vibration, with the frequency which is most her, and how to have faith in that and follow it. And that is a story for all times.”
Having watched Oprah’s spiritually minded show Super Soul Sundays, it sounds like she was pretty much meant to play Mrs. Which. It was definitely a bizarre experience seeing her dressed up in such an extravagant costume, paired with stone eyebrows matching every planet, of which she commented, “Reese and I were saying today, certainly the most makeup I’ve ever worn, in a lifetime.” After Oprah and Reese (Witherspoon, of course) were whisked away to continue shooting, we met Paco Delgado, the two-time Oscar nominated costume designer responsible for the unique and intricate designs of DuVernay’s interstellar adventure. Known for his work in period pieces like Les Miserables and The Danish Girl, Delgado told us he was excited to dive into unknown territory, both literally and figuratively.
A native of the Canary Islands (off the coast of Spain), Delgado shared that Carnaval memories from his childhood inspired many of the Misses’ looks. The Canary Islands are known for having some of the largest Carnaval celebrations in the world, second only to Rio de Janeiro, and after seeing some of the designs up close and personal, the links became very clear. Mindy Kaling’s character, the book-quoting Mrs. Who, had the most global elements and textures to her costume, taking cultural inspirations from Asia, South America, Africa and beyond.
He said of Mrs. Who, “She seems to have really wide knowledge of our culture in planet Earth. I thought she could be the most motherly figure in a way…so I thought [her] character could be like a compilation of all of the cultures in the world.” Delgado described Mrs. Whatsit as “the youngest, most playful one,” with naturally flowing, floral looks meant to capture her youthfulness and lush home planet, Uriel. He also explained Mrs. Which’s look, “She’s very brave and very wise…I wanted material reflecting light, almost like an armor…to have metallics and silver and lights and everything.” Yes, I can confirm: Oprah wears amazing metallic costumes and makeup in this movie and, quite literally, is a star.
Only a small glimpse of Michael Peña’s character Red is given in the trailer, and I was very curious to know the story behind his look. Delgado explained, “I really love Red’s costume because that was the first costume I designed…I thought about two things…I thought about Pee-wee Herman. And then I thought obviously about Pinocchio and then I thought about another singer of the eighties called Klaus Nomi.” (I will allow you a moment to Google image search Klaus Nomi like I did later on that day.)
He went on to share his mixed feelings about Red, a mysterious character the kids meet in the extremely sterile planet Camazotz, “I always think over-friendly as being too creepy. He was so friendly [and] that came with this whole idea that he was like a happy tourist on a beach.”
After Delgado proudly showed us the rest of the costumes, we were able to hear from the director herself. She only had a few moments in between filming, but in only four quick minutes, DuVernay concisely summed up how important this movie is for women and people of color.
“The way the film looks is very not traditional Disney. They’ve been really great in allowing me aesthetic latitude to really bring my filmmaking style into it… They never said no to anything,” she said. “All of the choices, in terms of the cast and the diversity of the cast, and the diversity of the crew, which is not normal to see this many women and people of color on a crew, they’ve just been supportive and encouraging of.”
Being present on the incredibly warm set and amongst the inviting cast and crew of A Wrinkle in Time proved to me that DuVernay is a woman determined to create films where Black, Latino, Asian and all characters live and just are, as we exist in real life.
“I just wanted a cast that reflects the real world. We’re not doing anything that shouldn’t have already been done. The question is, why hasn’t this been done before? There’s nothing outstanding and outlandish about this cast… I hope this kind of film is the new normal and that they don’t see anything odd or unique about a cast like this. I think we’re a generation that’s moving closer and closer to that, so that’s a beautiful thing.”
It’s oddly fitting that a book about kids traversing the limits of space and time would be the one to show us that the future of film is here, and has been here all along. We just need the right people to keep leading the way.
A Wrinkle in Time opens in theaters on March 9, 2018. Tickets go on sale February 22.