If you’ve seen Ava DuVernay’s deeply emotional film Origin, you were likely greatly impacted by its story about caste and the negative impact of hierarchy and prejudice. It’s a deep, educational and heart-pounding story about the creation of Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, and it left me feeling inspired and like I’d learned about how to make the world better. Jon Bernthal felt a similar way, and when I interviewed him about this film, he told me about what he took away from working on Origin, and the lessons he’s passed on to his kids.
In DuVernay’s film on the 2024 movie schedule, Jon Bernthal plays Isabel’s husband Brett, who tragically died early in the process of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents' creation. Bernthal starred opposite Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor’s Isabel, and the two portrayed the beautiful and meaningful relationship between Brett and Isabel, which showed the author’s significant other consistently defying the caste system. While speaking with me about what he personally learned about his character as well as caste, Bernthal said:
Obviously, you start identifying it everywhere, like, ‘Oh, that's really what this is.’ And I think today, there's so much effort being put in place to sort of highlight and kind of articulate our differences – which I think to celebrate our differences is extraordinary, and it's important, and people should be celebrated. But there's a difference between pointing out each other's differences and celebrating each other's differences, and ranking each other. And I think that there's, you know, we're surrounded by the sort of weak human phenomenon. I try and talk to my kids about it all the time.
Jon Bernthal and his real-life wife Erin Angel have been married since 2010, and they share three children. As he said, he tries to teach his young ones about the importance of celebrating difference and inclusion. Continuing to speak about how Origin impacted him, The Punisher star said:
Wanting what you don't have, always thinking the grass is greener. You know, and I think that this, really what this casting boils down to, for me, I think it's articulated in the movie: If we just didn't do that, think about how much better we'd be as a human race? If we didn't hold so many people down, right? Think about where we would be, and its happening all around us. And look, I think the very first and most important step of changing anything in human behavior is you got to identify it, you got to know what's a problem in the first place. And, you know, I think this film does exactly that.
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Along with Origin and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents being “a love letter” to Brett and those Isabel lost, as well as a sweeping historical epic, it’s also a lesson about the power of class and the destruction it can cause.
Like Bernthal, the lessons in Origin are ones I want to pass along. Ava DuVernay didn’t shy away from putting heavy subject matter on screen, and she was able to tell Isabel Wilkerson’s personal and professional stories surrounding caste in an accessible and impactful way.
Overall, the subject matter of Origin as well as the cast’s performances and DuVernay’s brilliant direction make it clear why this is one of Jon Bernthal’s best movies. Clearly, making it impacted him, and he learned lessons about society and caste that he’s passed on to his family, and I think many folks who see this film will do the same. I know I will.