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Ava DuVernay on Her New Movie ‘Origin’ and Why Racism Is Just a ‘Band-Aid on a Wound’

By: Sharon Waxman
Publication: The Wrap
January 04, 2024
January 04, 2024
Ava DuVernay (Maya Iman)

TheWrap magazine: “It’s the skin on a skeleton. The skeleton is caste,” DuVernay says, discussing her new drama that digs into the root of inequality

It was some time after the murder of George Floyd, after the emotional journey of making the 2019 limited series “When They See Us,” after the national reckoning that came with Black Lives Matter, that Ava DuVernay picked up the book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent.”

She read it. Then she read it again. The densely thoughtful work by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson explored American racism in a wholly new way — as an expression of caste. The writer-director-producer of “Selma,” “13th” and “Queen Sugar” was intrigued and a little confused.

“I didn’t understand it the first time because it’s pretty weighty,” DuVernay said. “I got to the end of it and thought, OK, that could be it. I could put it aside and just keep going. But as I didn’t get it, let me read it again. So I read it again. And somewhere in the middle of the second time, I started to really hear the voice of the author. She came off the pages and became a bit of a character for me. That’s my thought: Could this be a movie? And everyone I asked said, ‘No, ma’am. It cannot be a movie.’”

So, of course, she became determined to make it a movie. DuVernay’s new film, “Origin,” repositions “Caste” as a narrative story. The masterful Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor plays Wilkerson, the writer and the woman, as she tries to get her mind around the concept of caste and its pernicious tentacles, traveling to Germany to research the Nazis’ “othering” of the Jews and to India to witness the consequences of caste.

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