Future’s Past: How the Film Origin Delivers an Alternative Black Experience


Ava DuVernay arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

“I NEED EVERYBODY TO GO SEE THE MOVIE ORIGIN RIGHT NOW!!!” my friend sent in a group text. Instantly, questions flooded my phone, saying, “What’s Origin?!!“Who’s in it?!!” What’s it about?!!” The same friend answered everyone at warp speed. “Origin is a film directed by Ava DuVernay,” “It stars ol’ girl from Lovecraft,” and “It’s about racism…well, kinda, just GO SEE ORIGIN!!!!”

The Spark

The Warmth of Other Suns credit by Musueum of Arts and Design

In 2012, journalist and author Isabel Wilkerson was riding the success of her 2010 book debut, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. When tragic news of the murder of Trayvon Martin surfaced, it sent an awakening within Wilkerson.

“There’s something about how that moment. The moment when not only did it happen but also the outcome of that case,” said Wilkerson on Jemele Hill’s Unbothered. “I think a lot of us remember where we were when we heard, however, we found out about it. And it was kind of some type of jarring into a kind of reality that you didn’t want to be in.” Wilkerson decided to pen her subsequent work on an idea she had for a while titled Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents. “Caste is a different way of looking at our country. It’s an artificial arbitrary graded ranking of human value in a society,” says Wilkerson.

Same New Trauma

The film opens with a young Black teenager walking out of a corner store whom I instantly identify as Trayvon Martin, played by Myles Frost. My nerves began to rattle as I saw the actor onscreen portray Trayvon’s innocence as he was on the phone laughing with a friend. I thought of the multiple times I’d done the same thing on a random Tuesday in my hoodie, chewing on some Skittles candy. Memories playback in my head that remember me sharing the same facial fear expression as Trayvon when he realizes he’s a Black kid in an all-white neighborhood who is being followed.

The Fuse

Ava DuVernay on the Set of the Movie, Origin credit by The Hollywood Reporter

In 2020, notable filmmaker Ava DuVernay was in no mood for new source material. “Oprah was really in my ear about this book {Caste}, but it was during the pandemic, and I was sad. It came out about two months after the murder of George Floyd, and I just wasn’t really trying to read a big ol’ book,” Ava said to The Breakfast Club. “A few months later, I read it, and I didn’t quite understand it; it’s thick; it’s a big one. But there were some things that were interesting, I just didn’t agree with everything. So, I read it again to try and really understand it, and by the time I got to about the third time, I said I wanna make a movie about it.”

Ava DuVernay didn’t bother to waste time pitching the idea to Hollywood executives who wouldn’t understand a film based on a book about an oppressive system, so she decided to self-generate. “This film is about as opposite to a Marvel movie or studio film as you can get,” DuVernay told CBS Mornings. “So instead of wasting time asking them, I just went out and talked to some folks at the Ford Foundation and other key foundations, Pivotal and Emerson, and said, ‘Can we make it together?’

You Are Dismissed

From the start, my mind understood that Origin is an emotional film, hence why my soul cringed about thirty minutes after the Trayvon Martin scene. The protagonist, Isabel Wilkerson, played by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, is having lunch with friends in Germany, telling them about how she’s researching the connection between the Holocaust and slavery, when a debate emerges. A white woman friend expresses how Black slaves were subjugated for profit while Jewish people in Nazi Germany were victims of extermination. The tone felt dismissive of my ancestor’s involvement as if the Middle Passage was just a non-union group of Black folks who didn’t die.

The Anchor

Aunjanue Ellis Taylor credit by ARRAY Filmworks x NEON x IMDb

The performance of Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor in Origin is genius. Her journey as Isabel Wilkerson is one of tragedy and discovery shown throughout three continents: the American South, Germany, and India. When asked about the source of inspiration for playing Wilkerson, Aunjanue told the Breakfast Club, “Her writing is so transparent. There’s blood in her words. Every pillar of Caste that she argues through every part of the book, she’s in the book. She builds her arguments from her own personal experience.

Off-screen, Aunjanue’s passion for the film is so authentic that she stood outside a movie theatre to pass out promo postcards the same day the Golden Globes aired. “I’m not waiting for somebody to do it for me. I wanna do it myself,” Aunjanue stated. “We don’t have a lot of money, right? We don’t have millions and millions in promotional funds.”

Who Am I? Who Are You

In the past, any description of Black oppression as a spectrum that every race experienced was usually said to me by either an I-Never-Owned-Any-Slaves white person or a Black individual who doesn’t want to upset their white friends. The film Origin tells how Isabel Wilkerson’s grief journey set a path for knowledge that later became a gift. The brilliance of Origin is its ability to show how the Black American experience will always desire discovery because it’s the connection to our identity.

The post Future’s Past: How the Film Origin Delivers an Alternative Black Experience appeared first on American Urban Radio Networks.

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