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'A Wrinkle in Time' Director Ava DuVernay Uses Racism to Explain Away Bad Reviews

Director Ava DuVernay, actresses Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, and Reese Witherspoon in front of a poster reading "Wrinkle in Time"

Ava DuVernay, a black activist who directed a whole movie arguing that mass incarceration (a multi-racial problem) is a continuation of race-based slavery, suggested that racism explains why her latest movie, "A Wrinkle in Time," got bad reviews.

DuVernay gave a back-handed compliment to Vulture's Kyle Buchanan, who wrote about the "subtle, resonant" theme of the black main character's insecurity about her hair. "You were the only Caucasian journalist of any gender to see it, understand it and seriously ask me about it. Appreciate the chat, the sensitivity and the writing," the director tweeted.

Hair is indeed a sensitive issue among black women, and the film captured both the insecurity and the beauty of actress Storm Reid's unique curly hairstyle well. Even so, this theme was a tiny fraction of the film, and in the context of the bad reviews, DuVernay's focus on this element seems a desperate distraction.

"A Wrinkle in Time" has a "rotten" 42 percent rating among reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes. Many mass-market films have negative reviewer scores but positive audience ratings, but not this movie. The audience rating proved even worse for "A Wrinkle in Time," at a tragic "rotten" 36 percent.

Race didn't drive these negative reviews — content did. The film's focus on psychedelic themes without strong substance behind them really cut the power of the story. Many black reviewers panned the film. Slate's Aisha Harris reported that the movie "stumbles in its world building and can't quite find its groove." Over at Punch Drunk Critics, Travis Hopson wrote that "the film, for all of its wondrous visuals and good intentions, never takes off and soars the way we keep hoping it will." The Ringer's K. Austin Collins agreed. "There's a good movie in here somewhere, but it's beset with too many obligations, and maybe too much in the way of expectations," he wrote.

In an interview with Screen Rant, writer Jennifer Lee explained why she took out the Christian themes and Bible references from the book. "It wasn't removed, it was just opened up in language that wasn't exclusive, guardian angels versus stars, are they the same thing? Maybe," Lee said. She emphasized "inclusivity," saying, "Since we’re not limiting, we’re not picking some religion, but we’re saying we all feel, we can feel that you’re a part of something extraordinary and the messages are the same."