Film: Origin




Ava Du Vernay’s new film Origin was inspired by Isabel Wilkerson’s best-selling 2020 book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.

Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author, argues that caste, not racism, is the root cause of the bigotry and injustice which occurs around the world.

Du Vernay, rather than making a documentary, has made Wilkerson (a charismatic Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) the central figure in an absorbing drama as she develops her thesis while travelling the world to research inequity and prejudice.

“Racism as the primary language to understand everything is insufficient,” she says. “ We have to consider oppression in a way that does not centralise race.”

The outcome is a long and sometimes disjointed film with examples of oppression ranging from the treatment of blacks in America (whites against blacks), Dalits (Untouchables) in India (brown against brown) and Jewish people in Nazi Germany (whites against whites).



Ellis-Taylor is magnificent as the strong, intellectual black woman who is confronting major life crises as she works on her thesis.

The death of her supportive white husband (Jon Bernthal) is followed by that of her adored aging mother Ruby (Emily Yancy) and her cousin Marion (Niecy Nash-Betts).

The event which prompted Wilkerson to write her book is the 2012 killing of a 17-year-old Latino boy who was walking at night in a white area of Florida when he was shot dead by a neighbourhood watch volunteer.

We see the boy getting increasingly worried as a car starts following him, we hear his unanswered 911 calls to the police – then the shot which kills him.

A heartrending scene of segregation in the film shows a nine-year-old boy forced to sit on the sidelines while his white baseball team mates frolic in a public swimming pool.

Eventually he is allowed to float on the water on a blow-up pool mat – but warned that on no account must he touch the water.

In India, where protective laws still fail to stop prejudice against the Dalits, Wilkerson meets Dalit professor Suraj Yengde (who plays himself).

She finds that Martin Luther King compared the treatment of Indian “untouchables” with segregation in America, and that America’s segregation laws directly influenced the drafting of Germany’s Nuremberg laws.



Wilkerson’s passionate advocacy is compelling, as are the many examples of injustice, but in the end her theory that caste is the root of all oppression is unconvincing.

Du Vernay’s film is powerful and thought-provoking but at times it feels more like a lecture.

Now showing at Luna Leederville, Luna On SX and the Windsor Cinema.

Watch the trailer…

One thought on “Film: Origin

  1. I saw it today Margot @ Luna on SX in Freo. Very moving. Very powerful. Very thought provoking. I loved it.
    While I can see your point about it feeling at times like a lecture, it’s a lecture that needs delivering to the world right now.
    Warm regards

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