A Word About “A Wrinkle in Time”

 

By Leslye Joy Allen

This is a musing about the film A Wrinkle in Time directed by Ava DuVernay.  This is not exactly a review, but it is a set of thoughts that happened as I read the mixed reviews; and then watched the energy and wanderlust of children I saw in the movie theater watching the film.  I’m not going to spoil it for you, but A Wrinkle in Time is not the same rollercoaster that Black Panther is. These are two different films. Yet, it is ironic (and heartwarming) that Ryan Coogler, the director of Black Panther, has designated Ava DuVernay his “Big Sister.”  Coogler wrote a beautiful public letter to her; and he also noted in an interview that Ava had to go through some mess that she won’t ever talk about publicly.  I know what Coogler—who I plan to adopt as my son if his parents will share him—meant when he said that Ava DuVernay had gone through some stuff…She is the first Black woman to helm a big budget film and she was adapting Madeleine L’Engle’s children’s book that has been in circulation since the early 1960s. And L’Engle herself had to suffer through 26 rejections from publishers and self-righteous Christians that disliked the fact that she aligned Jesus with the Buddha and other “saviors” in the same book.  So go figure?

Now with that said, let me tell you what I got from A Wrinkle in Time.  First, the hero (or heroine) of the story is a little Black girl named “Meg Murray” (played by the incredible Storm Reid).  Meg Murray is the adopted daughter of an interracial couple, both of whom are scientists.  The first thing you notice about her is that her father’s disappearance is weighing her down socially. Both she and her younger brother “Charles Wallace  Murray” (portrayed by the adorable Deric McCabe) are getting into trouble at school.  Meg wears glasses; the kids tease her; and her grades have slipped.  What also shines through is her love for her father and her occasional doubts about whether or not she will ever find him.  Eventually, she heads out with the help of “Mrs Which,” “Mrs Who,” and “Mrs Whatsit”**, with her little brother “Charles Wallace” and friend “Calvin” (played by Levi Z. Miller) along for the ride.

Before the film was over, I watched little girls and boys of all shades and ethnicities in the movie theater watch a little Black girl literally save the world.  WE have never had a Black girl be this kind of hero in a film.  I watched two little girls get up in the theater and dance their own little dance to Sade, who came out of semi-retirement to lend her musical gifts to this film. I watched a young 40-something Black father sit with his 11-year-old daughter; and I watched him glance at her like my own father did when he was watching to see if I was enjoying a movie.  I had my moments of nostalgia and I would be lying if I said you shouldn’t bring along a few tissues.  Yet, what the film delivers most is staunch warnings against uniformity, against not believing in yourself, and against making decisions solely based on fear.  Before it’s over you think about everything from those times when you were jealous, when you were mean to someone or when you underestimated others or yourself. It is, as one person wrote, “A love letter to children.” And in this moment it was a little Black girl that delivered it.

Now, a few reviewers got it right when they said that this film is a family movie where kids are the primary and central audience.  (A reviewer named Mark Hughes wrote an incredibly insightful review of A Wrinkle in Time for Forbes Magazine which honestly surprised me. He thought so much more about the intersections of race and gender than most white or black movie reviewers that I have ever read, so I read what he wrote twice.)  Children need their own space and their own entertainment.  In an increasingly ADULT-centric world of self-absorbed adults, it is mandatory.  But for me, the film meant so much more.

I haven’t been a little Black girl for a long time.  I’m now an AARP Black woman.  But like “Meg Murray,” I know what it means when your father believes in your intellectual abilities.  We still live in a male-dominated world; and with less than 7 percent of CEOs being female and only 14 percent of films in Hollywood directed by women and even fewer directed by women of color, the numbers reinforce this domination, which is why director Ryan Coogler’s support of Ava DuVernay and his acknowledgement of what he knows she and women go through matters tremendously.  WE don’t get this kind of support and acknowledgement too often.  And girls and women get judged all the time based on nothing more than their physical appearance.  In this film we see what that looks like and how it feels. Importantly, Black women and girls who are assertive, who give themselves permission to be righteously angry, and insist on their right to take charge of their lives are often called the typical “Angry Black Woman” or worse; they’re/we’re called “B*tches.”

In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murray’s alleged faults become what she uses to change the world she inhabits. Those faults become her strengths. The film, like few others, gives young females the right to have flaws like all other human beings. For a change, and for a couple of hours, little Black girls in particular, and girls in general are not forced into those tragic two-dimensional “either/or” boxes. Instead, it becomes okay, even if only in fantasy, to be exactly who one is rather than some stultifying version of what the world and society expects one to be.  That’s all I’m going to tell you except take a child with you to see this film. If you have forgotten what it feels like to be a kid, I am so very sorry for your tragic loss.  Kids have an uncanny way of seeing things clearly when the adults miss the lessons or avoid the lessons altogether.  That’s why I love children and hang around them every chance I get…Without them, I/we would be amoral and dumb as a box of rocks!

**Author Madeleine L’Engle insisted that the abbreviation “Mrs” have no period in her book A Wrinkle in Time.  That idiosyncracy has been respected in this blog.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

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#25May2017 #June20and21

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This is a short blog…because, well, finishing a dissertation is serious business.  There are two dates that are important that I would like to highlight for you.  The first date is May 25, 2017 which is African Liberation Day, but also the launch date of Africans Rising, a continental and global movement spearheaded by its launch director, South African native Kumi Naidoo.  Naidoo daringly states that one of the first problems the continent has is a leadership that will not make room for the young; and young Africans are no longer simply willing to point their fingers at the harsh and lasting damage from past European colonization and exploitation, but also at African leaders who hold power too long and often.  I invite you to visit this organization’s website.  Read the magnificent Kilamanjaro Declaration and sign on to this movement of continental Africans and members of the vast African Diaspora.  Join us on 25 May 2017 by wearing something red and turning off all of your electronics (lights, etcetera) for at least a few hours to acknowledge the millions of Africans across the continent who do not have electricity.  Visit: Africans-Rising.org and read more about this beginning.  You can also watch a video of one of the most brilliant minds on earth: the anti-apartheid activist, feminist and environmentalist Kumi Naidoo here.  This is worth every minute:

 

The second dates for you to remember are June 20 & 21, 2017 which is the premier of season two of Queen Sugar.  The Ava DuVernay-created show is a revelation.  Never before has such an honest portrayal of a Black farming family been shown on television with their virtues and their flaws and their humanity in tact.  So, I encourage any and everyone to watch the two-night premiere on the OWN TV network or app on June 20 & 21, 2017. You can watch a trailer for the second season right here.

 

Think.  Stay Engaged.  Àṣé.

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Rituals, Theatre, and Transformative Goodness

Adinkra symbol of transformation.

Adinkra symbol of transformation.

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen

The first time I met theatre expert Paul Carter Harrison, he distinguished “theatre” from “drama” as theatre being the story that always contained some form of ritual and symbolism whereas drama simply told a story.  It was a bit more complicated than that, but I still remember that discussion.  It made me think of essays I read about how theatre began among us humans as rituals and performances designed to appease the gods or God.  Theatre was birthed in belief, in belief in something higher and more potent than ourselves, and that we all had a responsibility to this entity or entities higher than ourselves.  This thought has popped in my head off and on for the last two weeks…and today I think I discovered why this notion of ritual as theatre and theatre as ritual all designed to bring favor from the gods or God is so potent and timely…

Today I met a fiftyish White woman from Minnesota who told me that several cities in Minnesota solved their transportation problems by “building freeways through Black neighborhoods and business districts.”  Then she said, “they destroyed those neighborhoods.  There is a documentary about this but I can’t remember the name of it.” I then mentioned a former classmate who was writing his thesis about such a topic.  She was genuinely angry about it and talked about how unethical it all was.  “I’ll take Atlanta’s traffic to that kind of destruction any day of the week,” she said.

After she and I exchanged a few mutual comments about the late Minneapolis-born Prince, she asked me what was my discipline and I told her “History” and that my dissertation topic was about theatre.  Then she mentioned the Penumbra Theatre in Saint Paul, Minnesota and our conversation was off to the races.  I also had a conversation with a young man from South Africa that had moved here and lived on my side of town.  “I love it, here!” he said.  He and I had a conversation that ranged from the problems of the old South African government to recent politics to the status of women.  He also mentioned that he had a hard time with sexism since everyone came from the body of a woman.  I reiterated that I always meet talented, respectful young Black people every single day.  So what does this have to do with theatre and rituals?

Here is something I would like you to think about, and it ties in with theatre as ritual, and the rituals found in theatre and everyday life.  When one attends the theatre, one typically leaves with a different perspective.  No one leaves a theatre the same way that they came in.  Sitting in the dark of that theatre and watching performers suspend reality and portray characters other than themselves is in and of itself a ritual for performer and audience member alike.  One is literally transformed by witnessing what is done on stage.  One can get into the habit of going to the theatre, but a ritual is not a habit.  A habit is something you do almost by reflex, almost involuntarily, and it may or may not have any particular benefit to you.  You just do it because, well, you’re in the habit of doing it; and that might not be a bad thing, but a habit does not originate from the same source as a ritual.

A ritual is deliberately done; it follows a deliberate pattern in order to produce specific results.  Rituals create order, or at least make us feel that there is some order to the universe and the world we inhabit even in the midst of chaos, which is why human beings created rituals in the first place; and also why human beings can become so alarmed when certain rituals are not followed to the letter.

Today I discovered my own ritual.  Someone asked me how I end up having these stimulating conversations with people who are often complete strangers like the woman from Minnesota and the young man from South Africa.  Well, maybe it is because I don’t really meet strangers.  Yet, it is also due to my determination to not become a news junkie that feeds on bad news and controversy.  And to avoid bad news and controversy these days, one must deliberately turn off the television and internet and smart phone, and look for the truth, or at least find some balance between the real truth and the truth that is often manufactured for us.  So consider this…

The word “theatre” comes from a Greek word meaning “the seeing place.”  The seeing place was where you went to witness performers deliver the truth and wisdom.  Well, the truth is that, in spite of what you see in the media, there are so many nice, thoughtful people out there. Most of these people will never be on the news.  You have to look for them where you are; and you often find what you deliberately look for.  Make that a ritual.  Àṣé.

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

 

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

I Celebrate Them

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By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.

People that know me well (and some people that barely know me), know that I am a huge advocate for theatre.  I’m a Historian, an Oral Historian, and at the insistence of actors Margo Moorer and Keith Arthur Bolden, I’m also a dramaturge.

I saw the play “FENCES” that was written by the magnificent and late August Wilson decades ago.  Wilson was that rare African-American playwright that thought the particular culture of ordinary Black Americans was as worthy of a story to tell as any other story on earth…And he was right…He was damned right…

One of the joys of being an Oral Historian is interviewing people, many of who will never see their names in a book or newspaper.  Yet, what they can tell us about any particular period of history is invaluable precisely because they will tell you the truth about how any public policy affected them or did not affect them…which is why I always celebrate them…because they are so very important…and sometimes their stories are told in books and in films when most people least expect to see their stories told…So…

I am celebrating the fact that Denzel Washington and Viola Davis have brought the stage play FENCES to life as a film…and I am not going to lecture about how many people need to go to see this film or to see plays…

And I am positively, deliriously delighted to see Viola Davis win the Golden Globe for FENCES; and I am delighted that the story of the African American FEMALE scientists who helped put a man on the moon is now brilliantly portrayed in the film HIDDEN FIGURES. Now, what I am about to say in the next few lines matters to me and to a lot of women…

It is rare when Black women (or women in general) receive any visible, tangible praise or remuneration for having brains. Women get called on for advice and to listen to people’s problems; and women get praised for their physical beauty and politeness and tact, but we rarely get praised for being smart…and we rarely get paid for being smart…

Now, while I can almost hear all the good men I personally know getting ready to challenge me on this, I want to remind everybody of one important thing…

President Barack Obama actually awarded the Medal of Freedom to Dr. Katherine Coleman Johnson who is the subject of the film HIDDEN FIGURES, a film that traces her and many other Black women’s mathematical and scientific contributions to the race to place a man on the moon.  The Medal of Freedom is the highest award a president can give to a civilian American.  Actor Taraji P. Henson portrayed Dr. Katherine Coleman Johnson in the film HIDDEN FIGURES.  However, Dr. Johnson won this Medal in December of 2015 and it was featured in a news story in the New York Times and in a few other mainstream newspapers…But

this Medal of Freedom award did not particularly resonate and become viral news with too many folks…Hell, even I stumbled on it much later in mid-2016 and I wondered why I did not know much about this Black woman, myself…But I’m not angry with anybody…and I’m not calling any names because…

When I was a little Black girl growing up in Atlanta, a beautiful and regal and talented and supremely intelligent and gloriously Black woman named Diahann Carroll received death threats from White folks via mail because she was a Black woman who portrayed a widowed nurse named “Julia Baker” on a TV show called “JULIA” back in the late 1960s…and there are folks that think I ought to forget about that…but I will not forget it…and

I, and so many other young Black girls from that era, dreamed of a day when young Black women like Ava DuVernay and Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis and so many other glorious sisters would occupy places in the sun and tell great stories…and I know I am leaving out about three dozen names of some other wonderful sisters, but I am going to ask you all to fill in those extra blanks and go support these young women whenever you can…and I can say that after witnessing my sisters with talent and brains be too often ignored that…

I lived long enough to see enough of them shine without asking anybody’s permission…and I am going to live even longer to see them shine even more and tell some more great stories, and ask no one’s permission to do so…Àṣé.

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

No Ordinary Man

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Left to Right: Actor & Cultural Architect Charles Reese, Historian Leslye Joy Allen, and Actor-Director-Drama Professor Keith Arthur Bolden (Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.)

Left to Right: Actor & Cultural Architect Charles Reese, Historian Leslye Joy Allen, and Actor-Director-Drama Professor Keith Arthur Bolden (Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.)

When I learned that Mrs. Margarette Bolden passed on to the ancestors on Wednesday, October 26, 2016, I immediately thought of her son, my friend Keith Arthur Bolden.  I never met Keith Arthur’s Mama, but I knew her through him.  He spoke of her lovingly and often.  But then, that is Keith Arthur’s nature. (I call him by his first and middle name.)

An actor, director, Professor of Drama, and director of the amazing Spriggs Burroughs Ensemble at Spelman College that contains actors from all-female Spelman and all-male Morehouse College, I am highly familiar with Keith Arthur’s phenomenal work with young actors.  I had the good fortune to act as a Historical Consultant for him and this group; and the adventure was a lot of fun, and his asking me to do so was a supreme compliment.  But on Wednesday, October 26, 2016, Keith Arthur lost his Mama.  Yet…

In an act of unwavering devotion to his art and craft, he was up at 1:00 AM on October 27, 2016 for a late night/early morning rehearsal with his actors in the Spriggs Burroughs Ensemble.  One day after his amazing mother passed away from her third bout with cancer, Keith Arthur stated that his Mama would want him to keep working and perfecting his art.  This behavior might sound unreasonable to an ordinary man or woman, but Keith Arthur Bolden is not an ordinary man.

I have listened to him rave about how good his wife Tinashe Kajese is at acting.  “If you want to know how to get into a scene, you watch my wife,” he has said on so many occasions.  He could routinely brag about how beautiful his wife is (and she is a real beauty), but he praises her work all the time.  In that respect he is quite different from a lot of men.  Many men will praise a woman’s cooking and will talk about how pretty she is, or how supportive she is, but rarely do we women get praise for our professions unless the man has discovered some personal use of his own for our particular skills.  Even more rare is the man or husband who brags about his wife’s abilities in her chosen profession.  Keith Arthur Bolden is proud of his wife—as he should be, because Tinashe is a powerhouse of an actor.  He doesn’t mind telling everybody how proud he is of her as a professional.  In addition to that, he remains one of the most thoughtful men I have encountered…

When my cousin and theatre veteran Billie Allen passed to the ancestors in December of 2015, one of the first people to contact me was Keith Arthur.  When I had no money to attend the theatre, Keith Arthur made sure I saw Tinashe Kajese in the phenomenal play “Serial Blackface” about Atlanta’s late 70s-early 80s missing and murdered child cases; and actor-playwright Terry Burrell in her one-woman show “Ethel” about the life of the late Ethel Waters. (I have to add that Atlanta actor Margo Moorer is also another one of my theatre angels.  Margo came and picked me up and took me to the theatre to see Gabrielle Fulton’s “Uprising” and made me take some money.)  Keith Arthur adds even more love and light to the best in the theatre tradition.  He thought of me and got me tickets all while he managed and directed a college theatre group, while he taught classes, acted in a variety of television roles, while he had the regular duties of husband and father, and while he went back-and-forth to L. A. to check on his ailing mother.  I WILL NEVER FORGET HIS THOUGHTFULNESS.  So…

When I learned his mother passed away, I thought of the value of good parenting, the value of raising a boy to look for substance in a woman. Mrs. Margarette Bolden had to have been one hell of a woman and Keith Arthur’s dad was probably pretty smart for having married her…and now she has left the earthly plane to join the ancestors…

Keith Arthur would probably tell me that he has made some mistakes and that my compliments here are a bit over-the-top.  I would have to disagree.  Ordinary men rarely understand much about women, not always because women are that complicated, but often because ordinary men never really ask women any real questions, at least not any questions about what a woman wants to do for a living, particularly if what she wants to do professionally has nothing to do with the man asking the questions. Keith Arthur Bolden is not so self-absorbed and does not fit that description…

I suspect that his mother had a lot to do with his thoughtfulness and genuine respect for a woman’s ambitions and talents.  I have little doubt that his tenacity and belief that “the show must go on” (which explains his early A.M. rehearsal) not only comes from the theatre tradition, but also from his mother who battled cancer like a champion, always with a smile and positive attitude.  I looked at the photos Keith Arthur would post of her smiling, even though her health was declining.  So I thank Mrs. Margarette Bolden for her shining example and also because she raised a man who is not ordinary by any definition of the word.  One day at a time, Keith Arthur…Rest in Peace Mrs. Bolden.  Àṣé.

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.