top of page

Origin review — a return to form for Ava Duvernay


Courtesy of NEON

Ava DuVernay has wowed us yet again with her most recent film, Origin. A Venice International Film Festival Official Selection, Origin premieres in theatres Jan 19, 2024. The film follows Isabel Wilkerson, writer of "Caste: The Origin of our Disconnects", on her journey of writing this best-selling nonfiction piece, while also dealing with her own personal tragedies. 

Starting in 2012, the film follows Isabel, masterfully played by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, who is living a life many artists dream of. Having completed her first book, she and her husband (Jon Bernthal) begin looking for an assisted living facility for her mother (Emily Yancy). Amid her everyday life, we, the audience are struck with the reality that is the murder of Trayvon Martin. This case, one of the many we see of Black folk being unjustly murdered, is the impetus for the masterpiece that follows. We watch Isabel grapple with what Martin’s case means and how she digests that truth to create her seminal work, while also dealing with the grief of losing two of the most important people in her life. 

Courtesy of NEON

Watching this film is truly an experience. Seeing Ava’s consistent work as an independent filmmaker shine brightly is truly a blessing. With cinematography that is reminiscent of her first feature, Middle of Nowhere (2012), Origin strikes us as a surrealist, yet grounded drama that deals with Wilkersons' trials as she builds this book, which dares to question how we exist in America as African Americans and compares it to the Caste System in India, as well as what the nazi’s built during the Holocaust. While still being a structured film with a clear order of events, we are given the opportunity to see how all of these pieces interconnect. DuVernay jumps from the Jim Crow South to the Holocaust, to moments in early 20th-century India to truly weave together Wilkersons' thesis on how race is not the only fact that affects the treatment of those who are othered or deemed “untouchable” by the ruling class. 

While DuVernay’s skill does its part to make this movie what it is, there is something to be said about the amazing work of the all-star cast. Whether looking at Jon Bernthal & Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor’s stellar on-screen chemistry build the framework for our empathy and love of Isabel to grow as we watch her deal with the unimaginable loss of her partner, Niecey Nash-Betts’ gentle and familial brightness being used as a much-needed balance to the hard to stomach questions that Wilkerson and her book pose, or the somber and riveting performance by Lennox Simms as a young Al Bright, there is something to be said about the care and tact put into the emotional strength of the characters who this story revolves around. 

Again, Ava Duvernay has delivered us a riveting story of American (and international) history, power, and traumas, while also building a heartfelt and empathetic narrative around the unbelievably strong author of "Caste", all without the support of a production company. Her ability to add a profound poeticism to cinema, whether with this film, her first film Middle of Nowhere, or her work with the Disney film, A Wrinkle in Time, Duvernay has made her mark on the industry, and I for one, hope she keeps going. Independent filmmaking hasn’t left, and with artists like Ava on the rise, it truly never will. 

1 Comment

This was an extravagant review for an amazing film. This film was truly life changing and this article perfectly encapsulates the beauty that this film brings. I highly recommend this film and I definitely am going to watch again after reading such an awesome review! Great work!

bottom of page