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Origin roots through tough topics

Updated: Jan 27


Though documentary seems the natural approach to Isabel Wilkerson’s relevant exploration of societal ills in her book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, filmmaker Ava DuVernay successfully addresses the challenge of making it a feature film. DuVernay simplifies the book title to Origin and cannot include every detail found in its 496 pages, but she captures more than just basic points of the Pulitzer Prize winning author’s research into the core of racism. As played by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Wilkerson sees a link between India, Nazi Germany, and the United States with its history of slavery and westward migration that demolished the lifestyle of indigenous people. In every instance, the process involved indignity and pain, a link Wilkerson sees as fodder for a book.  Her publisher looks puzzled; her best friend seems doubtful.  “Say it in English,” remarks one after Wilkerson provides a multi-syllabic description of ideas she wants to pursue. Those ideas prove insightful—I would say enlightening, but darkness pervades this human need to create a system where people at the top determine a random group to sit at the bottom. Wilkerson goes on to elucidate the essential pillars or foundations of this structure, heavy stuff for movies, but full of “aha” moments that aid in the understanding how we live today. DuVerney’s cast, along with Ellis-Taylor, includes the almost EGOT wonders of Audra McDonald plus Niecy Nash, Emily Nancy, The Punisher’s Jon Bernthal, and Vera Farmiga . The team offers emotional resonance from skilled actors who come off as totally real. Reality often means that no one saves the world. Wilkerson in book and movie acknowledges she never feels capable of providing answers; she wants to ponder immensely valid and meaningful questions with the hope it leads to a better place. As filmmaker, DuVernay does justice to her source.

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