Kids separated from their families and placed in detention camps.
Teenagers rising up to push back against an overbearing system.
Today we know those by familiar hashtags #FamiliesBelongTogether and #MarchForOurLives, but a year ago, when the YA adaptation The Darkest Minds was filming, this still felt like dystopian fiction.
Now, this film about young people whose sudden onset of superpowers makes them a danger to society, has an unexpected new resonance.
“It’s actually quite bizarre,” says director Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2 and 3) “The book [by Alexandra Bracken] has been out for years. And as we were writing the script for the movie the possibility that people would be putting children into internment camps definitely was not something that we had intended as a parallel.”
Whenever controversies from real life intersect with moviemaking, many directors brush off the coincidence. But Nelson embraces the similarities.
The Darkest Minds is a resistance story.
The movie, now playing, stars Amandla Stenberg (Everything, Everything) as a teenager who develops the power to literally change minds.
All young adults and kids have seen otherworldly powers emerge — if they survive the mysterious plague that wipes out nearly the entire population under the age of 18.
Survivors find they can manipulate electricity and levitate objects, or harness the power of fire. That means they must be captured and detained, while the adults of the world figure out what to do with them.
It’s a metaphor for a timeless conflict — a new generation clashing with elders who would rather they be unseen and unheard.
It just happens to be especially relevant in our current political climate, with the Parkland students galvanizing the charge against the NRA, and the separation of asylum-seeking families at the border motivating a movement that declares “this is not who we are.”
“We see people [in real life] stepping forward and doing things that they may never have thought they would do,” Nelson says. “They sort of had been bystanders in their lives, and now they’re actually taking things into their own hands and voicing their opinions.”
“What we really tried to do in this movie is to encourage that sort of uplift,” she adds. “That sense of taking your destiny and your life in your own hands and to be empowered to sort of believe in what you personally are capable of doing.”
From The Twilight Zone, to the original Night of the Living Dead, to the X-Men comics and movies and countless other stories, fantasy and science fiction has always been a tool that helps a society process unrest and division.
“Despite the horrible things that are happening in the news as far as seeing these children in these situations, I think the underlying message [of The Darkest Minds] is really respecting kids for stepping forward and taking their own lives in their own hands,” the filmmaker says.
Youth movements will always be underestimated, but it’s important to remind them, even if only through fantasy, that they have strength they may not realize.
While the movie may subliminally inspire some to dig deep for their own courage, the filmmaker said she sees inspiration in the young-adult driven political movements in our own world.
“These are people that don’t have any power. These are kids. These are people that traditionally adults would look at and just dismiss,” Nelson says.
“Some of these people don’t have driver’s licenses yet, they can’t drive, they can’t vote, they can’t drink, they can’t do any of the things that would give them power in society, and yet they still are doing something. I think that lack of complacency, that sort of positive empowerment and engagement in their lives is wonderfully welcome.”