Venice— Suraj Yengde, a post-doctoral fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School in the USA, attended the premiere of Ava DuVernay’s film "Origin" at the 80th edition of the esteemed Venice Film Festival. Suraj Yengde, the author of "Caste Matters" and "The Radical in Ambedkar: Critical Reflections," hails from Maharashtra, India, and is believed to be the first Dalit to walk on the Red Carpet at the esteemed Venice Film Festival in Italy.
Meanwhile, history was made at the Venice Film Festival on September 6th when Ava DuVernay became the first African American woman to present a movie in competition and be shortlisted for the Golden Lion title at the Venice Film Festival for her film "Origin." Speaking to the media, filmmaker Ava DuVernay said, “It is something that hadn’t happened in eight decades. That’s a door open that I trust the festival will keep open.”
The film "Origin" is based on the book "Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents," authored by Isabel Wilkerson. The book, published in 2020, explores the concept of caste in the United States and draws connections between the caste system in India and social hierarchies and racial discrimination in America. It delves into the historical roots of caste-based discrimination and its impact on society, particularly focusing on how caste-like divisions have had a ripple effect on the treatment of the African American population.
The book examines how caste affects not only individual lives but also broader social structures and institutions, including politics, education, and healthcare. By drawing attention to the concept of caste in the American context, the author aims to shed light on the enduring racial disparities and divisions in the country. The book has been praised for its thought-provoking exploration of systemic inequality and discrimination and its relevance to contemporary discussions about race and social justice in the United States.
The movie version of the book, "Origin," traces the life of author Isabel Wilkerson (played by Aunjanue Ellis) and moves from the travails of slavery and discrimination suffered by African Americans in the Jim Crow segregated states of the United States to the caste-based atrocities undergone by the Dalits in India. By drawing comparisons with caste, the film reframes the conversation around race.
The film also delves into the journey of the author, touching upon her personal tragedies—the death of her white husband, Brett (Jon Bernthal), and her mother (Emily Yancy). Moved by these tragedies, she embarks on a global investigation and encounters various forms of discrimination beyond race. The film also includes a touching recreation of Nazi Germany.
For the Ambedkarites, the film holds special significance as it is the first Hollywood film to feature the character of Babasaheb Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, played by Gaurav J. Pathania, a Professor in the United States. The film briefly portrays Ambedkar, who as a child suffered enormous indignities but overcame all the hardships to study and fight against caste.
However, it is worth noting that Ambedkar is yet to be extensively explored in Bollywood, which is not only the cinema industry of his home country but is based in the city where Ambedkar spent a significant part of his life. Earlier, Ava DuVernay had made "Selma" in 2014, which was a biopic of Martin Luther King Jr., a Black civil rights activist. The film also premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in Canada on September 11th.