Origin Parent Guide
This film is both too much and too little at the same time.
Parent Movie Review
Author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) finds herself at odds with conventional wisdom. As she investigates the 2012 fatal shooting of Black teenager Trayvon Martin, Isabel is increasingly convinced that racism does not fully explain his death. To her mind, racism is simply one manifestation of a global social mechanism that fuels oppression - caste.
“Caste” is an unfamiliar term to most North Americans, but as Isabel concisely defines it, “Caste is the phenomenon of placing one group above another in hierarchy”. As she dives into historical research, Isabel believes that caste can explain the parallel experiences of Blacks in America, Jews in Nazi Germany, and the Dalit (previously referred to as Untouchables) in India. After multiple tragedies tear away at her life, Isabel throws herself into a global voyage of discovery to confirms her thesis that different manifestations of caste systems are at the root of the suffering of millions of human beings, past and present.
With Origin, director Ava DuVernay tries something new, using the life of a real-world author as a frame narrative for the book that she writes. (In fact, Isabel’s non-fiction book, Caste, hit the shelves in 2020, becoming a bestseller.) It’s a clever device, tying an author’s personal struggles to the historical tale she unfolds, but I don’t think it works. Caste is simultaneously too much and too little. The script tries over-stuff a two-and-a-quarter hour runtime – Isabel’s losses, her intellectual curiosity, her family’s past along with the Atlantic slave trade, Jim Crow segregation, the Nazi Holocaust, and the lethally rigid caste system of India. As a result, it feels as if there’s never enough time to cover the fascinating histories unearthed here. The repeated bouncing between topics slows the film’s momentum and can leave viewers feeling bored. What Caste needs to be is a miniseries. After I watched it, I sketched out a two-season non-fiction miniseries based on this material that I would love to see. The material is here: it just needs a more expansive canvas.
I appreciate this film’s good intentions, but I am concerned over its public appeal. After all, I am the target market for a production like this. I love history and have a passionate commitment to alleviating poverty and eliminating oppression and injustice. If this film doesn’t score a home run with me, how will it fare with a less nerdy audience?
Adults considering this film for family or classroom viewing can be guided by the PG-13 rating. Note that some teens might be disturbed by the re-enactment of Trayvon Martin’s death or upsetting moments from history. Scenes from Nazi concentration camps, the hold of a slave ship, and a lynching are also distressing. None of the violence is gratuitous or gory, but it is painful to watch. To be fair, that is the point. Isabel Wilkerson wrote her book to show the horrors of caste systems throughout history, so it shouldn’t be surprising that her film is horrifying. If we don’t learn from the past, we are condemned to repeat it, so maybe we should pay attention to Isabel’s warning voice.Directed by Ava DuVernay. Starring Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Jon Bernthal, Niecy Nash. Running time: 135 minutes. Theatrical release January 19, 2024. Updated January 19, 2024
Watch the trailer for Origin
Rating & Content Info
Why is Origin rated PG-13? Origin is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic material involving racism, violence, some disturbing images, language and smoking.
Violence: Trayvon Martin’s death is re-enacted, accompanied by real-life 9-1-1 calls. An important character is found dead of natural causes. Two other significant characters are shown close to death, and subsequently die off screen of natural causes. Nazis seize children from their parents. Scenes are shot in concentration camps where people are routinely dehumanized. Nazis burn books. A woman abducted by enslavers is implied but the assault is not shown on screen. A man is lynched in front of a partying crowd: his legs and lower body are seen as he is hanged from a tree. There is non-explicit mention of mass rapes as a method of social control. There’s mention of the real life death of Heather Heyer, who was killed by a man who deliberately drove is car into a crowd of protesters. Children are intimidated and isolated by racist words and behavior.
Sexual Content: Naked people are seen in the hold of a slave ship, but there are no visible genitals. Sexual assault of a woman is implied but not shown on screen.
Profanity: Scatological curses are heard. A racial slur is used.
Alcohol / Drug Use: There are brief scenes of men smoking. Main characters drink alcohol at parties and with meals.
Page last updated January 19, 2024
Origin Parents' Guide
Do you agree with Isabel Wilkerson’s thesis about the role of caste systems in creating and perpetuating injustice? Do you think she’s correct in identifying the pillars of caste? What do you think can be done to stop perpetuating caste assumptions and systems?