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Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time gets adoption (and it’s refreshing)

Contributed by
Mar 20, 2018

Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time has touched many hearts—and for good reason. It’s a science-fiction film for children filled with powerful representations of women of color and children of color.

Meg, the protagonist, is an angry, scared, self-conscious biracial girl. Her mother, who is black, is as badass of a scientist as her father, who is white. The people who lead them through their adventure are all women—a powerful black woman named Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), a hilarious and delightful Indian woman named Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and a white female initiate who follows their lead, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon). And, let’s not forget Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), Meg’s younger brother, an adopted Filipino boy—which brings me to my point. One of the most amazing aspects of this film is its representation of adoption.

In general, adoption gets scant representation and when it does, it's usually not great. Think of the MCU's Loki, the adopted son of Odin and brother of Thor. While I laugh at the horrible tricks he played on Thor in their childhood, turning into a snake and then stabbing his brother, another part of me aches. There are other examples that are not great—like Thanos' relationship to Gamora, who becomes his adopted daughter after he basically slaughters her entire race. Not all of these portrayals are actively harmful, but many of them just don't have the nuance.

I have seen so few representations that rang true for me as an adoptee, but when I saw A Wrinkle In Time I felt recognized and understood by DuVernay and her team. The love between siblings is one of the greatest powers in the universe and when you're adopted, being loved by your sibling can save your life. I know it did for me. 

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From the opening of the film, adoption is represented as a norm, a gift, and a significant change for the child who is already home: Meg. Her father tells her that their love for her will change with the new child coming home—it won't be gone, just enfolded. That message becomes the touchstone for Meg throughout the film and plays a key role in the story's resolution. Before we even see the adopted child on screen, we are shown a warm family that chooses to bring a new addition into their home and has intentional conversations about what that means.

When we do see Charles Wallace some years later, he is portrayed as this brilliant, adorable child who thwarts gender conventions while serving as a symbol of hope to the entire universe. The. Entire. Universe. That’s rad. Who the hell cares about evil, straightwashed Loki as their adopted icon when you can look up to Charles Wallace?

Charles Wallace vouches for Meg with the Mrs.-es, even though she finds him annoying (and it’s okay—he's allowed to be annoying because all siblings are, sometimes). He knows that Meg is powerful, more powerful than she can even comprehend, despite Mrs. Whatsit stating her doubts about Meg's capabilities at every turn.

In the beginning, it's Mr. Murry’s love for Charles Wallace that first leads him to the discovery of how to tesser, and it is also Meg’s love for Charles Wallace that helps her finally “absolutely, gloriously" tesser. Over and over, Charles Wallace is acknowledged as a genius, as a gift, as a child deeply loved. This version of A Wrinkle in Time is an adopted kid’s dream in so many ways—but it doesn't shy away from illustrating the nightmare, too.

When the evil IT takes hold of him, Charles Wallace faces the doubt that many adopted children do: what if you really are as bad and unloved and disposable as you feel inside? What if there’s no point in trying to be good and kind, because you were always meant to be this one evil thing? If you’re adopted and your biological parents were not great people (in my case) or even if you don’t know your biological parents at all, there’s sometimes a deep fear that something evil lives inside you, that there’s some reason you were given away. Unlike the example of Loki, where the darkness inside him is wielded to harm, we see a young, vulnerable Charles Wallace corrupted by the IT. It’s a terrifying illustration of the belief that evil could live inside of any of us adoptees, of the unknown quantities of rage or addiction or illness that reside in our genes, of our original failure of being worthy of being loved.

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When Dr. Murry decides to leave Charles Wallace to the IT and pulls his daughter Meg to take her with him, my heart broke. “You’re leaving him again?” a grief-stricken Meg wails. She refuses to leave Charles Wallace, much like my adoptive sister refused to leave me when I came out of the closet, or when I had a mental breakdown in the middle of a soccer game in high school. My sister sat up with me late at night, held my hand, and was dragged into the darkness with me. Just as Charles Wallace leaned into his intellect and his specialness to gird him against the pain of loss, to feed the anger and rage inside him, I also turned inward with hate and spite, burning up like a supernova about to ignite. And just as Meg reminded Charles Wallace that he was loved, that he would always be loved, my sister reminded me of the same.

There are so many ways adoption impacts adopted children and the adults they grow up to be, and one story could not reflect them all. But A Wrinkle in Time provides one powerful example of how adoption can be talked about with love, care, and hope. My bond with each of my sisters, biological and adoptive, is deep—deeper than my bond with any parent, and seeing that reflected in the love between Meg and Charles Wallace, the love that saved the universe, took my breath away.