Ava DuVernay wants 'Origin' to create more conversation about caste

The Emmy-winning director's biographical film explores how the experiences of people of colour in America connect to caste systems in India and the Holocaust

Published : 21 Jan 2024, 07:56 AM
Updated : 21 Jan 2024, 07:56 AM

For Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay, creating the biographical film “Origin” was an emotional quest that helped her connect with Isabel Wilkerson, the author of the book on which it was based.

“I made this film from a place of great joy and connection, Isabel was writing her book from a place of deep loss and connection, and what they both have in common was that it was a very emotional journey for both of us,” DuVernay told Reuters.

Wilkerson’s 2020 book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”, defines racism in the United States as an aspect of a larger racial caste system. Wilkerson describes caste an artificial hierarchy that divides society into social classes.

Drawing from Wilkerson’s non-fiction book, DuVernay’s narrative feature explores how the experiences of people of colour in America connect to caste systems in India and the Holocaust in Germany.

“Any society in the world you think about, there’s someone at the top and someone at the bottom. If we understand that that’s the case, we can start to say, ‘how can we level it out?’” said DuVernay, who also directed "Selma," a film that explores Dr Martin Luther King Jr's voting rights campaign.

Although she doesn’t believe inequity will be solved in her generation, she does believe that getting the message out there through her film and other means may someday cause a shift in the universe toward justice.

“Origin” follows author and journalist Wilkerson as she copes with a personal tragedy that serves as a catalyst for her to begin a global investigation into how caste has shaped society, including slavery and hierarchy.

The film stars Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor as Wilkerson, Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Audra McDonald, Niecy Nash-Betts, Nick Offerman and Blair Underwood.

It arrived in theatres on Jan 19.

DuVernay created what she describes as less of a “straight adaptation” and more of a “companion piece” that’s an interpretation of Wilkerson’s life and book.

“We really were just allergic to permission. We just gave it to ourselves and allowed us to make the film we wanted to make, to be completely free in our expression,” she said.

For DuVernay, even if “Origin” is mostly recommended through word of mouth, it is important for the independent film distributed by Neon to be seen globally.

“We are fortunate that we were able to make it as an offering and whoever receives it, will receive it. That's it,” she said.