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Filmmaker Ava DuVerney outlines institutional racism and caste systems in her new film "Origin"

Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, left, and director Ava DuVernay pose for a portrait to promote the film "Origin" on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in Beverly Hills, California.   -  
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Damian Dovarganes/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved


NAACP and BAFTA award-winning American filmmaker and producer, Ava DuVernay, had been delaying reading Isabel Wilkerson's “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.”, the inspiration behind her new film Origin.

The best-selling book, released shortly before George Floyd's death, redefines American racism by examining historical caste systems, drawing parallels with Nazi Germany and India's caste system.

"I knew nothing about caste when I read the book. I did not have an idea about it in relation to my own contemporary life and my personal experience. I thought about caste as something that I knew was a part of the system, the social system in India. So I had no, uh, reconciliation of it as a contemporary concept, certainly no connection to it in terms of African-American history or, you know, Jewish American history. Nothing along those lines. And so when I read the book, it was quite a revelation to me. And I started to really try to understand how did this idea of a human hierarchy, that some people are over another kind of person based on a set of random traits?..."

In Origin, DuVernay not only brings the thesis to the big screen, but also makes Isabel Wilkerson the protagonist. The film follows the author, portrayed by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, as she conducts research for the book and navigates the joys and tragedies of being a black woman.

"Yeah, well, you know, I'm a Black woman from the rural South. So what I was offered and given in the book 'Caste' and given the chance to expand and enlarge with Ava's ideas at work as well, and her research and scholarship that's also infused in the script - is to give language to that and to do it in celluloid…"

Despite its debut at the Venice Film Festival, “Origin” has been somewhat overlooked. Duvernay expressed disappointment at Ellis-Taylor's absence from Hollywood's awards season buzz.

"It's been disappointing it has not had the reach in the Hollywood community in terms of the industry that considers awards, and that's a mechanism of, you know, our distributors' limited budget and strategy and the way that it's been rolled out," DuVernay said. 

"But I think that people who we have been able to get it through to - through Array and through the filmmakers and through the cast and everyone kind of pushing to share it - when people do see it, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, overwhelmingly connected. Um, so many people raising their hand to talk about it, to host screenings - Ben Affleck, Sean Penn, Angelina Jolie, Dave Chappelle, Lin-Manuel Miranda. People buying tickets, people posting - a community of artists really gathering around it and rally around it once they see it. The challenge has been the limited reach so far. So I'm hopeful that when the film opens on January 19th, in some select and limited cities around the country, that the word of mouth from people and as well as some of our influential friends will drive people to discover the film on their own - and that it will - that time will tell and time will reward the film for its merits, which I think are beautiful ones - you know, sharing stories about our common humanity and justice and dignity for all."

"Origin" opens in limited release in the U.S. on Friday.

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