Camazotz and the Divine Matriarchy

A Wrinkle in Time and me go way back to when I was a misunderstood, bespectacled kid like Meg Murry, whose attic room, precocious little brother, loving parents and big, old New England house I envied.

I was no science fiction fan, but A Wrinkle in Time was something special. It presented the wonders of time and space through a loving and deeply spiritual lens, and that is what kept me coming back to it year after year, well into adulthood. I was re-reading it for the millionth time a few years ago when I wondered why there had never been a movie. I Googled it, and found out a director I had never heard of at the time, Ava DuVernay, was making one, and that is when the countdown began. I could barely wait.

The moment finally came Friday when I saw it at a theater in Brooklyn, plied with popcorn, cherry Coke, and friends. The scene I most wanted to see was the one on Planet Camazotz, where all the kids went out to bounce a ball in perfect synchronization every day at the same hour. I put off going to the bathroom to see this scene, and DuVernay delivered. I noticed that, though, the homes were homogenous, the ball-bouncing children were of different races. The synchronized movement stood in sharp contrast to the spirit of the movie, whose cast was purposely and beautifully diverse, and which rejected outright the notion of oppressive sameness that has beleaguered our country and Hollywood for so long. DuVernay, who had not read the book before she was asked to direct the movie, was already the ultimate warrior against the Camazotz mindset, and that made her perfect for this job.

She changed some plot details and scenes, but DuVernay seized on the heart of story, which was about the triumph of love. The theme of the book was that Meg’s faults would become her greatest strengths. The movie used Rumi’s quote, “the wound is the place where the Light enters you,” to illustrate that. And then DuVernay used the biggest, most maternal mallet we have to drive home the point: Oprah, who played the billions-of-years-old Mrs. Which. Mrs. Which began the movie towering above everyone else, which immediately made it feel as if Oprah was playing herself in someone else’s coming-of-age epic. She really is that ginormous. 

Oprah represents universal nurturing itself in a pivotal scene as she stares into the face of young, uncertain, brown-skinned Meg, and assures her that she is the perfect, beautiful culmination of years of evolution. She was speaking in that moment to every child of color in the world, along with one middle-aged, bespectacled white woman who never outgrew her awkwardness. Oprah, as Mrs. Which, accepted Meg in her struggle even as she called her to become the warrior the child was destined to be.

It was a nourishing moment. It made me think of our need for matriarchs, human and universal, and how starved women have often been in a male-dominated world that choked out any woman who was not voiceless and obedient. Think of God without a Goddess, and an all-male Trinity that does not even hint at femininity. We need goddesses and matriarchs, the kind who speak loudly, are not obedient, and who will stand up for us and all in truth.

We do not need them so much in the old way of things; that is, we do not need more women to teach us the way of women. Oprah herself had a grandmother in Mississippi who told her she would one day be doing laundry for white families, like she was. It was only a light inside of Oprah that told her she would not be doing anything of the kind. We need matriarchs not to reinforce to suffocating boxes of racial and gender roles, but to nourish us and free us to be our own unique selves, even if that self runs crossways against the world. 

That was the message of the movie, which took Meg’s all-wrong adolescent angst, and used it to save the universe. It hit the theaters at a time when matriarchs of the sort, I described, are reigning everywhere. Every woman who has encouraged and loved other women into their own true, unique beings fall into this category. Every woman who has said it is okay not to strive to be beautiful falls into this category. Every woman who lets younger women know they are okay just the way they are falls into this category. Every woman who celebrates the diversity and truth of who women really are, in the full range of their humanity, falls into this category. And every woman standing up for herself, and others who have been sexually assaulted falls into this category.

Harper Lee called the looming specter of womanhood the “pink penitentiary” in her 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird. She was among the few who rejected it outright in her time, preferring a blunt cut for her mousy hair. She wore no makeup. In pictures, all we see is her scrubbed face looking back at us, and it is beautiful, as is author Carson McCullers in her 1940s dungarees. They are also our matriarchs, letting us know from times when it was absolutely not okay to be your own kind of woman, that it was always okay to be your own kind of woman. You only had to have the courage to be yourself, though in some times, it took more courage than others.

And Oprah is here, now, in 2018, to step the message up an octave. She widely shares the most important lesson she has learned in life, the same one Mrs. Which shared in essence, which is just this: You. Are. Enough.