The work of Ava DuVernay has been a champion of American cinema for years now. She’s done it all: an award-winning documentary, the hard-hitting biopic/historical drama, a Disney movie with Oprah and a Netflix miniseries. The varied nature of all that sounds like a lot, but all her films have the same thread line: the plight of African Americans in an unbalanced society. The sad reality being that has only gotten worse as her career has gone on, a huge fire filled fecal- bag of racism, white supremacy, fascism within the horrors of late-stage capitalism. 

Thats why I think Origin, DuVernay’s new joint, is the culmination of her years of exploring racial injustice. The theme of the film is as much a thesis statement on her career. Origin is an adaptation of the book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. The author’s own thesis statement on how systems of power are made up just to divide us as people. DuVernay’s choice of not only adapting the source material but also having it be about the author’s journey in writing the book makes it a more palatable viewing.  

At the center of this film is Wilkerson (played to the heath by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) coming face to face with the ingrained systemic issues that plague us while also dealing with her the grief she’s endured. The loss she experiences is the catalyst of her work with her losing both her mother and her husband (played well by Jon  Bernathal) in a short period of time. This fuels her investigation and through the film and helps her heal which, in turn, shows her that we and the structures of society also need healing.  

The film mixes the documentary style of Wilkersons life with the events that influence her journey. The 16mm cinematography proves very versatile at creating multiple time frames and giving them their own unique flair.  The lighting and locations help separate each aspect of the story while Wilkerson’s side anchors it all to create a story that fits its themes. It’s also where the film shines though I do think it struggles in places to balance itself in the more complicated artefacts of Wilkinsons research with the dream-like emotional element of the film. It pays off for the most part.  

The performances are good, the editing juxtaposing the historical and the modern does feel a little like a CBS documentary at times, but no doubt succeeds when it needs to for the story. Duvernay’s career has told us time and time again that there’s something wrong with how we interact and with Origin the message is as clear as day. Things don’t have to be the way they are; we can change.  

  • Directed by: Ava DuVernay
  • Written by: Ava DuVernay and Isabel Wilkerson
  • Starring: Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Jon Bernthal, and Niecy Nash
  • Run Time: 2hr and 321min.
  • Released: October 27, 2023 (US) | February 9, 2024 (IE & UK)

Review by Marcus Rochford.

Origin Trailer