Origin Ava Duvernay caste
John Bernthal and Aunjanue Ellis in Origin courtesy of SCAD and NEON.

Ava DuVernay invites audiences to consider their own privileges and prejudices in her devastating new movie Origin, a heartbreakingly human story of how author Isabel Wilkerson researched and wrote her New York Times best-selling book Caste: The Origin of Our Discontent while grieving the loss of her husband, mother, and cousin.

Starring Aunjanue Ellis as Wilkerson, John Bernthal as her husband Brett Hamilton, and Niecy Nash-Betts as her cousin, Marion, Origin expertly weaves Wilkerson’s own personal story with the stories of the most historically oppressed groups across the world: the Black community in America, the Jews in Nazi Germany, and the Dalits of India. The movie, like the book, seeks to explain how each of these groups are connected by the world’s caste hierarchy.

At a Q&A following a screening of Origin on closing night of the SCAD Savannah Film Festival on Saturday, DuVernay said she hoped audiences would consider their own place in the caste system after watching the film.

Ava DuVernay on Her Hopes for Origin

“We made it with an open heart, so we watch it with an open heart, you consume it with an open heart. Has it done anything to have you thinking about your relationship to the world in any different way? Because we can change policies, we can change procedures, we can change laws, we can have laws on the books, but if the human heart doesn’t change, it doesn’t matter. We’ve proven that as a society, it doesn’t matter. It is with the individual. And that’s my invitation with this film,” DuVernay told the crowd.

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“That’s what we’re trying to say — interrogate your place. What do you do? Who are you better than? When you really think about it, who are you better than? Who do you think you’re slightly better than? I know, I had to ask that question for myself,” she added.

“There are people who I think, ‘Oh, they don’t know. Oh, I wouldn’t have dinner with them or, Oh, they can do this for me.’ And you know, we are all affected by this. It’s okay, we’re all in the same boat with it. And we have to figure out our own individual way out. And if we can accomplish that within our lifetimes for ourselves, there’s going to be a better next generation.”

The Selma and When They See Us director first found Wilkerson’s book in 2020 and was inspired to adapt it into a narrative film.

“This came at out right around the time of George Floyd’s murder. And I was feeling like I wanted to sink my teeth into something, just try to learn and move myself forward. I picked up the book, I read it once. I didn’t understand, and I was disappointed in myself. I didn’t quite get it. I read it two more times. And each time I started to come around and start to kind of sink in. I became fascinated by who wrote this, how did this come about? And I’d heard that she had experienced some losses in her life. And I thought, what a act of genius and radical kind of creativity or write something like this, in the midst of grief,” she said.

“So I reached out to her and asked her if I could talk to her about an idea that I had. And it was the first idea, which was to interrogate her life and work, because I feel like they went side by side. So not just the book, but her process of writing the book and proposing that to her. It was a short road to ‘Yes.’ It wasn’t a lot of convincing. She really understood that we needed a main character to take us through the idea of caste in a narrative film. And so she was generous enough to share her stories with me.”

Origin arrives in theaters on Jan. 19 from NEON.

Main Image: John Bernthal and Aunjanue Ellis in Origin courtesy of SCAD and NEON.