A Wrinkle in Time Creators Encourage Girls to Channel Their Inner Warriors, Pursue Their Dreams
Everything starts with a story. Just ask Sasha Williams, a 16-year old with big dreams. On Feb. 24th, Williams didn’t just get a selfie — she got a hug and words of encouragement from Ava DuVernay, the directing powerhouse whose work, from 13th to Selma, tackles inclusion and racial division head on and continues to find new ways to define the art of storytelling.
The occasion was an event organized by HP, Disney and Nissan to bring together girls from Black Girls Code, a nonprofit that nurtures the tech skills of girls of color, to celebrate the release of DuVernay’s big-budget film, A Wrinkle in Time. With seven chapters in the U.S. and South Africa for girls 7 to 17, Black Girls Code runs after-school programs, summer camps and hackathons where local groups build projects ranging from websites to robots.
Giddy and tearful, Williams was electrified by her encounter with the director. “I've always looked up to [Ava]” says the young California native, who hopes to one day become a virtual-reality game designer. “And now, for her to take on this story about a little black girl trying to become a warrior, about being who you are, it’s just really inspiring.”
Williams wasn’t the only one energized by the moment. At the event, part coding challenge/part affirmation, 40 or so girls were treated to the first public showing of the film, as well as talks with several of the movie’s stars, including Storm Reid, who plays the story’s hero, Meg Murry; Reese Witherspoon; Chris Pine; and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
A movement to create the leaders of tomorrow
“Just like a lot of you, my daughter just wanted to be able to create the games she was engaging in,” said Kimberly Bryant, the founder of Black Girls Code, while leading a panel at the event. She began BGC in 2011 out of frustration when her then-12-year-old daughter, Kia, started going to tech programs and camps — and found she was the only black girl in the room. It was a scenario that Bryant, who had a successful career in biotech, knew all too well. “My frustration grew into a movement that now, hopefully, will help all of you become the leaders that much older engineers like myself will look up to in the coming years.”
Taking on the coding challenge
Next, the girls broke into groups of four to start working on the main activity of the day — the Warriors Who Code Challenge. For this project, the teams built apps inspired by the movie’s themes of self-discovery and self-esteem. Sasha Williams partnered with 15-year-old Kimora Oliver, a friend from Oakland, as well as 14-year-old Cadence Patrick and 13-year-old Kaelyn Hendrix. “Before Black Girls Code,” says Oliver, “I was oblivious — I didn't know what coding was. It feels so good now to go in and have people who look like you, who are trying to reach the same goal as you.” The girls name their team “By Storm,” inspired by the actress who plays Meg.
Tears of joy
When DuVernay walked through the door at the BGC event, Sasha Williams dashed across the room to meet her. After she told DuVernay how much she admired her, Williams says, the director asked, “Why do you say you admire me?” Williams replied, “Because you’re doing what I want to do when I grow up, and you're not telling me that I have to wait until I grow up, you're telling me that I can do it now and I should just go for it!” As she was talking, Williams says, she started to cry. DuVernay reached out and pulled Williams in for a huge hug. “Meeting her inspired me to do more,” says Williams, who made sure to give DuVernay her card. “If she can do it, I can do it, too.”
Inspiration from an HP pioneer
Judy March, a panel member and a manager of a group of HP software developers that creates cloud-based printer-management software, floated from team to team, mentoring the girls. March was recruited by HP out of grad school to be a software developer 18 years ago. Along with other members of her HP team in Boise, Idaho, March has volunteered to help local high school girls develop their coding skills while also providing them with a real-life role model. “It’s a recurring theme,” she says. “I hear it again and again: People steer away from tech when they don’t see themselves reflected in the industry.”
“I’ve loved this book since I was 12.”
Later in the day, super-producer and Oscar- and Emmy-winning actress Reese Witherspoon joined the party. In the film, Witherspoon portrays Mrs. Whatsit, the youngest and most playful of A Wrinkle in Time’s celestial beings. “I’ve loved this book since I was 12 years old,” Witherspoon tells the girls. “[This movie] is a great opportunity to see women being the heros of their own story, which is what every woman in this room will be.”
On being a warrior — one of the movie’s central themes — Witherspoon says: “A warrior is a woman who stands in her own power. There’s a great line where I say to Meg, ‘Accept your faults, because they’re a huge part of you. You’re not perfect in anything, and you’re not supposed to be perfect in anything. You’re supposed to be your unique, beautiful self.’”
Confidence and motivation
It’s finally time for the girls to unveil their creations, with each team getting about 2½ minutes to present. By Storm’s app, called Inner Warrior, delivers quotes from famous people and tasks the user can do each day to boost their confidence, self-acceptance and motivation.
Bryant notes that by having the girls work in teams and present their work to each other, BGC builds leadership skills as well as coding skills. Williams agrees. “Knowing when to step back and knowing when to stand up is a skill I learned and developed by working with a bunch of different kinds of people at hackathons,” she says.
To learn more about Black Girls Code, visit their website blackgirlscode.com.