This morning, I contributed to the audible sniffles and sobs at the screening of Origin, the 5th narrative feature by Ava DuVernay. Premiering in competition at the 80th Venice Film Festival, it’s an ambitious and highly emotional adaptation of the best-selling non-fiction book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. I expect there to be detractors of the film, both for its central thesis and the almost scholarly storytelling, but to me it’s an engrossing, more-than-worthy attempt at deconstructing systemic oppression throughout history. Thanks in no small part to an excellent ensemble cast led by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, it inspires you to think without failing to make you feel at the same time.
The film opens with the last moments of Trayvon Martin’s life. In 2012, the teenage boy was shot to death on his way home for no apparent reason other than being black. In the wake of the tragedy, Wilkerson (played by Ellis-Taylor), a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist-turned-author, is pursued by a former editor to write about the case. Instead of joining the discourse on racially motivated crimes in America, Wilkerson embarks on a research tour that takes her from Berlin to New Delhi, at the end of which she publishes a book that seeks to redefine racism as we know it by putting it in a historical, global context.