Ava DuVernay says that while “it’s been disappointing” her film Origin “hasn’t had the reach in the Hollywood community” during awards season, she is proud of the “overwhelmingly positive, overwhelmingly connected” response it’s garnered from those who have embraced it.
Starring Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Audra McDonald, Niecy Nash-Betts, Nick Offerman, Blair Underwood and more, the Neon film is produced, directed and written by DuVernay, based on Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. The film adapts Wilkerson’s analytical exploration of how caste can serve as a framework for understanding American racism — alongside the caste systems of India and Nazi Germany — into a biographical drama that has been called poignant, ambitious and possibly “the most important biopic of a book ever made.”
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In The Hollywood Reporter’s review, critic Lovia Gyarkye said it “wobbles as it tries to balance” its multiple narratives across continents, relationships and time. But it is a “process film” that “offers a tender love story — one brought to life by passionate and committed performances from Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor and Jon Bernthal.”
It premiered at the Venice Film Festival last September before getting a theatrical release in December. Since then, the largely lauded film has struggled to garner the attention of awards season voters, who have showered more attention on other major contenders, including The Killers of the Flower Moon, Barbie, Oppenheimer, American Fiction, Poor Things, The Color Purple, Maestro, Rustin, The Holdovers, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Anatomy of a Fall, All of Us Strangers, The Boy and the Heron, and Past Lives.
Among Origin’s honors are one Gotham nomination for lead actress for Ellis-Taylor, a best film Golden Lion nom from the Venice Film Festival, along with a smattering of noms and wins from a handful of critics associations. But it was snubbed by the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, DGA, SAG and Critics Choice Awards. On Thursday, the Critics Choice Women’s Committee announced the film would receive the Seal of Female Empowerment in Entertainment and Oscar nominations will be revealed on Tuesday.
According to DuVernay, the reason for the oversight is marketing related. “It’s been disappointing it hasn’t had the reach in the Hollywood community in terms of the industry that considers awards, and that’s a mechanism of our distributors’ limited budget and strategy in the way that it’s been rolled out,” she told The Associated Press. “But I think that people who we have been able to get it through to — through Array and through the filmmakers and through the cast and everyone kind of pushing to share it — when people do see it, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, overwhelmingly connected.”
In January, actress Ellis-Taylor was captured passing out postcards in front of an L.A. movie theater, encouraging people to see the film. “I got recognized maybe twice,” she told A.frame, the Academy Awards’ digital magazine, in a recent interview. “It’s funny because there’s a big billboard [at the theater], so it really looks corny or whatever. I’m on the billboard, and I’m like, ‘Hey, go see that movie!'”
“But I’m going to be going back at some point this afternoon, passing out more flyers,” she added during the prerecorded Zoom call. “Because when you don’t have millions of dollars to promote it, and you don’t have billboards on Sunset Boulevard, you have to do other things.”
While speaking to the AP, DuVernay praised other members of Hollywood for showing up for the film, “raising their hand to talk about it, to host screenings.” Among them were Ben Affleck, Sean Penn, Angelina Jolie, Dave Chappelle and Lin-Manuel Miranda. She also shared her appreciation for “people buying tickets; people posting; a community of artists really gathering around it.”
“Time will tell and time will reward the film for its merits, which I think our beautiful ones,” she added. “Sharing stories about our common humanity and justice and dignity for all.”
Ellis-Taylor also spoke up about the lack of awards attention on Friday, telling People that “this film does something that is very, very brave.” Ellis-Taylor, who attended the Critics Choice Awards last Sunday for her work in Justified: City Primeval, added that being at the ceremony was “hard,” as she “felt like Origin should have been there.”
“I think it is brave creatively, I think it is brave in its message, I think it confronts things in a way that is innovative,” Ellis-Taylor continued. “And I just think that we [in Hollywood] award the white guys for that kind of work.”
Jan. 19, 2024, at 6:25 p.m.: Updated with additional quotes from Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor.
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