Verdict: Origin is a harrowing but essential watch that would have possibly worked better as a documentary.

  • Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Jon Bernthal, Niecy Nash, Nick Offerman.
  • March 8th 2024
  • Ava DuVernay

Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor plays Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Isabel Wilkerson in this hard-hitting examination of caste systems.

After taking a break from movie directing following 2018’s A Wrinkle in Time, Ava DuVernay is back with Origin.

This hard-hitting drama stars Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor as Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Isabel Wilkerson, the author of the 2020 non-fiction book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.

The film follows Wilkerson as she researches her book and interview scholars and case studies to present her case that caste and racism are different and should not be confused with one another. She particularly focuses on Black people in America, Jews in Nazi Germany and the Dalits in India to explore why they are on the lower rungs of their respective caste systems and what has kept them there.

Although it is a tough, upsetting watch, Origin tells an important and powerful story that should be shown in schools to educate everyone about why these marginalised people are treated as less than other groups.

At times, it feels like a documentary and perhaps it would have worked better as a doc instead of a narrative feature because it is very information-heavy.

You feel like you are being taught a lesson in movie form. It’s a worthy lesson and one everyone should be taught it, but you should not stick this on if you’re looking for light entertainment. You need to be in the mood to be educated and have your eyes opened to injustice and probably also in the mood to have a good cry.

The message of the film really hits hard in the final 30 minutes, when Wilkerson narrates passages from her book as we see sobering images of these marginalised people being dehumanised.

However, the film as a whole is quite hard to get through. It is far too long at 2 hours and 21 minutes, it doesn’t get into the book-writing process in earnest for a long time, and the pacing and structure are not quite right.

Yet, Ellis-Taylor gives a remarkable performance in this film and it’s shocking she has been so ignored this awards season. She shoulders a lot as an academic who takes on a difficult subject while processing her grief following a series of personal tragedies.

There are a bunch of recognisable faces in the supporting cast, from Jon Bernthal as her husband and Niecy Nash-Betts as her cousin and best friend. Keep an eye out for small appearances from Audra McDonald, Connie Nielsen, Finn Wittrock and Victoria Pedretti too.

Overall, Origin is a harrowing but essential watch that would have possibly worked better as a documentary.

In cinemas from Friday 8th March.

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