In ‘Origins’, Ava DuVernay and Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor explore the roots of racism

NEW YORK (AP) — Ava DuVernay kept hearing she had to study. "Caste: The Origin of Our Discontent." He had Isabel Wilkerson's book in the galleys before it was published in 2020. Oprah Winfrey kept telling him to read it. But he postponed it. It was a very impressive read. Copies were found in abundance in his house.

"At one point, a high-profile director said to me, 'I heard you got the book,'" says DuVernay. "And I said, 'Yeah, I got some copies.' He said, 'No, I heard you're doing that.' I said, 'As in doing a movie?' So I said I'd better read it."

But once she opened Wilkerson's book, DuVernay had to read it a few times before actually reaching the end. “Caste,” a best-seller released shortly before George Floyd’s death, redefined American racism through the historical stratification of race. Wilkerson wrote, "Race in the United States is the visible agent of the invisible power of caste." “Caste is bones, caste is skin.”

For DuVernay, whose films ( "13th,""Selma" ) has illuminated American history with rigor and passion, the "race" thesis was eye-opening.

“As a black woman I was very fascinated by the idea of ​​race. That was the lens through which I see myself and the world sees me,” DuVernay says. "that's what I thought."

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DuVernay's new film "Origins" is not a direct adaptation of Wilkerson's book. DuVernay, who wrote the screenplay, centers it on Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor), who follows the author as she researches the book and confronts her own personal joys and tragedies. The film takes the heavy lifting of historical and sociological investigation and turns it into an intensely humanistic drama and globe-trotting detective story.

“He's Indiana Jones. “She's going around the world looking for the holy grail,” says Ellis-Taylor. “She's on this process of discovery and then in the middle of that worldwide search, she gets lost, and her loss is immeasurable. Is. But she is still searching. He is a hero. He is a cinematic hero.”

DuVernay and Ellis met last month for an interview at the downtown offices of Neon, which is releasing "Origins" theatrically on Friday. He had just started talking about his latest experience making the film. Ellis-Taylor hadn't seen it yet and wasn't sure she was going to do it. “It was very personal for me,” she said. "I don't want to share it with anyone right now."

Some have ignored "Genesis" ever since. Venice Film Festival begins, DuVernay has lamented Ellis-Taylor's absence from the fanfare of awards season thus far. But it would be a mistake to underestimate "Genesis." The movie that made countless top 10 lists including this criticBoldly connecting big ideas with emotional warmth is fundamental.

If “Cast” tries to describe some of the man-made hierarchies that repeat throughout history, “Origins” — for which DuVernay and her producing partner, Paul Garnes independently collected financing — takes a look at its own. is a work that boldly and beautifully transcends traditional Hollywood boundaries. ,

DuVernay and Garnes raised $38 million with the help of philanthropists – including the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – many of whom had little Hollywood experience but believed in the film. Melinda Gates is a producer. NBA stars like Chris Paul invested.

“We are in an industry and society where everything has a label. If there's a Black female director and a Black female lead, it should be about things they care about,'' DuVernay says. “My hope is that we can somehow break down caste.”

"Origins" begins with a dramatic recreation of the Trayvon Martin shooting and later dives into Nazi Germany, Jim Crow-era Mississippi and other historical scenes. Experience of Dalits in India, It delves into the history stories by portraying Wilkerson's life with her husband (Jon Bernthal) and mother (Emily Yancey) – an intimate drama that provides a poignant look at some of the social structures Wilkerson discovers while exploring the roots of racism. Let us respond and clarify.

"I wanted something where her intimate personal journey moved along, reflected, challenged, and really complemented this huge universal truth that we don't really know," says DuVernay. And I felt like somewhere, there were touch points where they complemented each other. One didn't always lead the other completely, but they were interacting.

Ellis-Taylor, Oscar-nominated co-star "King Arthur," DuVernay's 2019 miniseries "When they see us," About the Central Park jogger case of 1989. He signed 'Origin' without any script. "I read 'The Warmth of Other Suns,'" she says, pointing to Wilkerson's previous book. "So how bad can it get?"

DuVernay describes the creation of "Origins" as focused on her work with Ellis-Taylor, a collaboration based on their mutual personal relationship with the material.

“These things that she speaks about in her caste columns, these are the things that I lived with. They are not abstract ideas. This is my reality,” says Ellis-Taylor, who grew up in Mississippi.

For Ellis-Taylor, seeing race as a race was a new revelation.

“It excites me. It sets me on fire,” she says. “And I believe this film is a dangerous film. If it does the job I want it to do in theaters, it should make people angry. This should make people crazy. I felt like a soldier in that battle.

DuVernay also described herself as prepared for an "ugly reaction" to the film. A leading proponent of inclusivity in cinema and the first African American woman to direct a live-action film with a $100 million budget, she is accustomed to the culture battles that often accompany candid discussions of race.

"I've gotten used to it. But on 'Selma' I wasn't prepared and it hurt me. It hurt me When people came to me about LBJ (On 'Selma') And that I'm destroying people's legacies and that I'm wrong and how dare I do this and that when I was pushing the perspective of a group of people who typically have no Their perspective is not the story,” says DuVernay. “It seems like every time I do it, I'm wrong. I've felt that vitriol and felt that anger.

"In this, I'm ready for it in a way I wasn't before," says DuVernay. “And my preparation includes: dealing with it. I'm not going to fight you. It is there. Try."

Yet the most common reaction to "Origins" from viewers has been an outpouring of emotion. Moviegoers often come out of the theater with their eyes dry. Far from academic, the film's power is built through its straightforward humanity – what DuVernay calls "15 little love stories".

There are also some painful historical incidents in between. Yet filming them – like the Martin shooting – doesn't seem painful to the director.

DuVernay says, "My experience shooting these types of films before has given me strength and tools to the point where it doesn't bother me, and I feel really empowered and empowered because I get to be the teller of these stories. Get a chance."

"Origins" was shot in rapid succession over 37 days in three countries in early 2023. DuVernay quickly changed it, completing the edit in time for Venice in September. It was such a fast process that Ellis-Taylor had trouble locating it chronologically in her mind.

"I think I know why," she says. “Because it doesn't feel real. It feels like a miracle.”

DuVernay calls "Origins" the film she is most proud of, partly because of how she made it outside the studio system. For DuVernay, who started out in the industry as a publicist, each earlier film felt like a test to prove herself or her talent behind the camera. His last film, "A wrinkle in time, For the Walt Disney Company, a famously difficult-to-adapt novel was adapted. The "Origins" experience – though no less challenging – was different.

“For me, it has changed everything I know about myself and my work. Working with freedom and abandon, as well as having a sense of certainty in one's skills. To not feel like, 'Oh, I didn't go to film school and I'm just skating around,'" DuVernay says. 'It was absolutely free.'

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