Courtesy photo by Atsushi Nishijima/Neon
MISCENGENATION NATION: With the support of her husband, Brett (Jon Bernthal), author Isabel Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) writes her groundbreaking nonfiction book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, in the biopic Origins, streaming on Hulu.

Writer-director Ava DuVernay (I Will Follow, 13th, When They See Us) helms this biographical drama based on the life of scholar Isabel Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) as she writes her nonfiction book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, which was published in 2020 and describes racism in America as a product of a caste system, akin to Nazi Germany’s Holocaust and treatment of the Jews and India’s degrading hierarchical system and its treatment of Dalits, also called untouchables.

First, as a pure cinematic entertainment, this is a moving and engaging story about two true partners. Brett and Isabel are a mixed-race couple living in a systemically racist country, and their integrity and nobility are laudable. Bernthal and Ellis-Taylor both deliver powerful, nuanced performances in these complicated roles. It’s ugly to see the casual way racism permeates their lives, yet inspiring to see how they handle it. 

More importantly, this film should be required viewing for all Americans, especially those who believe we live in a post-racial society. Wilkerson’s somewhat radical theory is that American racism is a product of our caste system. In other words, it’s a symptom of another deeper disease, and to rid our country of racism, we must first recognize and dismantle caste. (141 min.)

—Glen Starkey

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