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In the wake of a personal tragedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson embarks on a transformative journey to research and write her groundbreaking book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents in this gripping investigative drama.
Origin boasts a powerful cast led by Oscar winner Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor as Wilkerson, joined by her King Richard co-star Jon Bernthal and newly minted Emmy award-winner Neicy Nash-Betts.
If the life of Isabel Wilkerson, from her Howard University roots to becoming one of America’s most celebrated authors, reads like a script written for Ava DuVernay, it’s because both women share a fire in their hearts for getting to the core truths of the human experience. In Origin, this shared passion comes to life on the screen, weaving a tapestry of personal triumph, agonizing tragedy, and the relentless pursuit of both justice and understanding.
The film takes us beyond the biographical, leading us headfirst into the churning waters of 21st-century America. The specter of Trayvon Martin hangs heavy in the air, echoing a history steeped in racial injustice. It is here where Isabel witnesses not just racial divides but a pervasive caste system deeply embedded in the fabric of history. This becomes the crux of her next book.
DuVernay orchestrates a ballet of time and space. We seamlessly follow Isabel through the present, grappling with the weight of research as she tries to come to terms with personal loss, and alternates with leaps back into the past. Historical vignettes lend weight and complexity to Isabel’s thesis, from the chilling tale of August Landmesser and the plight of Eastern European Jews in Nazi Germany, to the dehumanization of the Dalit population in India, to the nuanced world of Allison Davis and his groundbreaking scholarship about the Jim Crow south, DuVernay weaves together Wilkerson’s insights about the underpinnings of caste to reveal how they’ve impacted all of us.
Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor breathes life into Isabel with an emotionally charged performance. Her eyes blaze with unwavering resolve as she navigates the labyrinthine complexities of her research, but they also dim with her grief. This vulnerability, this raw humanity, is what makes Isabel relatable, endearing, and ultimately heroic. In Ellis-Taylor’s hands, Isabel is not just an intellectual titan but a woman wrestling with the demons of doubt, the burden of responsibility, and the ever-present sting of inequality.
DuVernay’s eye for visual storytelling elevates the film beyond mere biographical drama. The camerawork is artful and dynamic, mirroring the intensity of Isabel’s pursuit. Close-ups reveal the depth of her emotions. The color palette, too, plays a subtle but powerful role, especially when the story goes back in time or when Isabel travels to other countries.
As the narrative unfolds, it makes a case no one could deny, that so many have put their lives at risk to challenge dominant cultures and institutionalized subjugation, and that it’s our responsibility to learn from our past in order to continue to change the present.
Origin is more than just a film; it’s an emotional experience that continuously challenges its audience to reflect on how caste systems are connected to racism, and to see how both have deeply impacted our history and our present day divisions.
Watch Origin with everyone in your life, as it’s an important and timely conversation starter – one that could ultimately foster more empathy and connection.
Recommended for 13+. The film explores some tough subject matter of race and discrimination.
Go Deeper: Listen to NPR’s interview with Director Ava DuVernay