Reuters, Sept. 6, 2018 - Ava DuVernay, an award-winning director, defied doubters who tried to dissuade her from applying on Wednesday to become the first African American woman to show a film in competition at the Venice Film Festival.
Before the premiere of her stirring, thought-provoking picture "Origin," DuVernay told reporters, "As Black film makers we are told people who love films in other areas of the world do not care about our stories. "I can't tell you how often people have urged me not to apply to Venice because I won't get in. And that took place this year. I'm grateful. An African American woman competing was something that had not happened in eight decades.
The 2020 best-seller "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents" dramatizes the process by which Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson came to write it while also delving into the book's racial and systemic discrimination themes.
"Origin," which was produced in just 37 days, moves quickly between personal traumas in Wilkerson's life and recreations of Nazi Germany, Jim Crow segregation in the American South, and the humiliations experienced by the Dalit "untouchable" caste in India.
The movie depicts how historically, individuals of lower castes have been terrorized and dehumanized, kept at the bottom of society, and banned from marrying people from higher castes or changing their preordained lot in life.
Suraj Yengde, an Indian academic who plays himself in the film, remarked that Wilkerson "cast a light on (something) that our reader desperately needs to know or else we will be shooting at ourselves without even knowing why."
Initially working on "Origin" under a studio framework, DuVernay—who directed the 2014 film "Selma" about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s fight for equal voting rights for Blacks—then turned it into an independent movie, giving herself wider artistic flexibility, including the choice of who to cast.
The lead is played by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, and Jon Bernthal plays her spouse. Similar to Yengde, genuine persons also appear in other roles.
DuVernay claimed that having a studio in charge would have made it impossible to assemble such a cast.
"There is a level of control (over who plays what) (in the studios)," she added. "There is an idea about who makes money, who attracts attention, and sometimes that sits at odds with who might be the best person."
"You see how they shine like stars together. This cast is filled with blood, sweat, and tears working actors."
23 films are vying for the prized Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film Festival, which finishes on September 9. "Origin" is one of them.