Jeneé Osterheldt

Critics are just wrong: 'Wrinkle in Time' is the movie we need — right now

“Why do I have to be in pain ...” Meg starts to ask Mrs. Which.

“...While everyone else is glorious?” Mrs. Which finishes the thought for her.

The little girl in me flooded my face with tears throughout the new “A Wrinkle In Time” movie. But something both broke open and healed during this exchange.

That question is the angsty wonder of girls worldwide going through those in-between adolescent phases where they can’t fit in and don’t look like what they’ve been told is beautiful.

But it’s also the battle cry for black women and girls of all ages. That question has haunted me more than once, as a girl, as a black girl, as a mixed girl, as a black woman throughout my life.

We’ve been told we aren’t enough or we are too much: We’re too loud, too angry and we’re the least desirable on dating apps.

So I don't care what those dismissive critics are telling you about Ava Duvernay’s big screen adaption of Madeleine L’Engle's classic novel. It doesn't matter to me that a movie with a $100 million budget, the most ever given to a black female director in Hollywood, debuted with only $33 million and has a 42 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

"Black Panther" and "Wrinkle In Time" hold the one and two spots at the box office. That in itself is history. Representation matters.

Seeing Meg, played delightfully and delicately by Storm Reid, with her golden brown skin, broad nose, big curly hair and glasses, was an affirmation. The movie is a love letter to girls, especially girls of color.

Meg doesn’t play into a single stereotype I’ve seen black girls, especially black girls with a white parent, boxed into. Never once is her mixedness used to downplay her blackness. Never once is her race even incorporated into the storyline. She’s not a tragic mulatto or a ditz. She’s not a stuck-up pretty girl obsessed with being exotic. She’s not a hippie trying to spread free love and utopian clichés.

Meg is girl power. Anyone can relate. But she also, without a doubt, is 100 percent #blackgirlmagic.

Like her parents, Meg is a scientific genius (close that gender gap in science and math), but she’s being bullied. Her dad (Chris Pine) is missing, and that is painful and enraging and overwhelming her performance at school. And she’s protective of her little brother. (Charles Wallace as played by Deric McCabe is a treasure. And hooray for some major Asian representation. Give us more.)

Unlike Black Panther, her superpower isn’t from a heart-shaped herb. Unlike Wonder Woman, she’s not born of super strength from the gods. She’s not a wealthy white guy with save-the-day toys like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne.

The power of Meg is in simply being herself. And that is what she learns from Mrs. Which (the celestial wonder played by Oprah as her whimsical, Super Soul Sunday self).

In so many ways, we are all Meg, with her deep insecurities and heartache.

She isn’t quite comfortable in who she is but she isn’t trying to be anyone else, either. She rocks jeans and sneakers and flannel shirts — because there’s no costume required to make a difference. And like so many curly girls, she struggles with accepting the coil of her hair.

The scene where Calvin, her friend-crush, compliments her hair is a moment for me.

Truth: White people don’t often call black hair pretty. For them, our hair is a spectacle. It’s interesting, something to touch, a thing to wonder how we got it the way we got it. But this white boy genuinely likes her hair. And Ava gives us some deep, close-up shots of those lush curls. We even see Meg dip her whole head in water and use her fingers to pull her hair into a bun. You hardly ever see black girls do that on screen.

When "It," the darkness trying to destroy the world, offers Meg a long, flowing-hair version of herself, you know what Meg does? She punts that broad.

Why? It's not just about self-love. Meg Murry is mad. Mad about her dad, mad about her classmates and teachers, mad about herself and her life. And for the first time ever, anger isn’t used as a weapon against a girl, especially a black girl.

mindy kaling.JPG
Mindy Kaling is a mystical Mrs. Who. Atsushi Nishijima Walt Disney Pictures

Mrs. Who (wondrously played by Mindy Kaling, who as a South Asian woman never felt included in the sci-fi and fantasy genre) gives Meg a quote from Rumi: "The wound is where the light enters." In all the hurt and anger, there is a power.

Mrs. Which tells her she has to become one with herself and one with the universe. She reminds her how important she is, just as she is. And Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) gives her the gifts of her flaws.

So Meg, brilliant, skeptical, loving and mad Meg, is celebrated. And she finds the balance, the ways to use her anger and suspicion, heart and scientific genius as tools to protect the people she loves and shatter her self-doubt.

In one dramatic scene, as she’s fighting the darkness, she rattles off her flaws as if she's chanting a spell. And she screams out, “Yet, you love me. ... I deserve to be loved.”

All little girls need to know that they deserve to be loved as they are. Especially girls of color.

And women need to be reminded to love their complicated selves. You are real, and that is magic. No one can take your light. You, too, are glorious.

Jeneé Osterheldt is a Kansas City Star culture columnist. On Twitter: @jeneeinkc.