Based on Dr Ambedkar’s Life, How Hollywood Movie ‘Origin’ Examines Global Connections of Caste

Inspired by the book titled ‘Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents’, the film has received positive reviews.
Based on Dr Ambedkar’s Life, How Hollywood Movie ‘Origin’ Examines Global Connections of Caste

New Delhi- Dr. B.R. Ambedkar made his Hollywood debut on the big screen with the release of the film ‘Origin’ last month in theaters across the United States. The book titled ‘Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents’ by Isabel Wilson served as the inspiration for Ava DuVernay’s movie.

A renewed interest in Ambedkar’s character and work has resulted from the dissemination of his works throughout the world. It is true that a Hollywood film depicting the untouchable youngster, Bhima, sitting outside a school and then strolling around Columbia University as a young man while reading books is incredibly captivating.

In this two-and-a-half hour film, director Ava DuVernay — best known for her Oscar-nominated movie ‘Selma’ (2014) — has tried to establish a strong connection between the persecution of Jews in Germany, racial apartheid in America and caste oppression in India. 

In essence, ‘Origin’ depicts the journey of author Isabel Wilkerson (played by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor).

The movie makes an effort to emphasize that caste — not race — serves as the main structural component that binds all other forms of discrimination together. The movie explores the histories of Germany, the United States and India in an effort to identify a universal theme of discrimination.

In the movie, Gaurav Pathania, an assistant professor of sociology at Easter Mennonite University in Virginia, portrays Ambedkar.

The Catalyst

In one of the scenes, Wilkerson is seen reading Dr. Ambedkar’s ‘The Annihilation of Caste’ and searching for answers to a number of questions that arise after learning about the 2012 killing of Treyvon Martin, an innocent young Black man, for simply walking around the neighborhood because he was deemed a “threat”.

This completely destroys Wilkerson. She chooses to investigate the underlying causes and subtleties of racism in the United States and immediately abandons her ongoing research. She also visited Germany and India on her search.

Many questions arise in her mind: if all Indians are primarily brown, how did the Nazis distinguish between the “touchables” and the “untouchables”? Jews and Aryans are both white, so how did the Nazis distinguish one from the other? 

Her curiosity was piqued as to whether there was a common thread between the prohibition of interracial or inter caste marriages in an effort to maintain the “purity” of race or caste.

Many of her family members and coworkers first deny any suggestion of a caste connection. But what follows later provides responses to queries. The audience is then taken to an enlightening and fascinating global voyage. It offers fresh insights, theories and proof of the connection.

Wilkerson demonstrates her thesis — that race functions as a “skin” while “caste” is an innate thing like a “bone” — with examples.

The film illustrates how the Jim Crow Law, a US system of segregation and disenfranchisement that prohibited African-Americans from using public amenities including — buses, railroads, schools and restrooms, served as an inspiration for the Nazis in the 1890s.

The movie provides compelling examples of how the rigid upholding of endogamy is brought into play in all three instances of discrimination — the Holocaust, in the Jim Crow era and in India. The narration and the striking scenery further support her theory. A few spectators could also be observed applauding during the film’s stirring conclusion.

Though it focuses on Wilkerson’s past and present, it doesn’t sound like a biography or documentary about the author. The director holds the audience’s interest throughout.

Based on Dr Ambedkar’s Life, How Hollywood Movie ‘Origin’ Examines Global Connections of Caste
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The Ambedkar Story

Wilkerson in the movie meets Indian scholar Dr. Suraj Yengde, a Harvard professor. He provides her with more information on the caste system. According to Yengde, Ambedkar is closely connected to African Americans.

Origin’ highlights how caste is a fundamental element in a developing nation like India where the barbaric practice of manual scavenging persists — Dalits go into a manhole full of human waste unprotected, leaving only the oil on their bodies. It is evident that technological advancements are still “untouchable” in this domain.

The filmmaker makes a point extremely effectively by using Ambedkar’s actual voice and his thoughts on endogamy as a caste preserver. You may be a little let down if you were hoping Ambedkar’s character would be one of the primary ones.

In comparison to Mammooty’s portrayal of Ambedkar in Jabbar Patel’s 2000 film, Pathania, appears flawless in the role.

He appears in a number of roles, including that of a Columbia University student on campus, in and around New York, and also during the Mahad Satyagraha; however, he has little screen time.

Had the filmmaker shown Ambedkar discussing endogamy in front of his instructors while presenting his paper “Castes in India — Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development (1919)”, his persona would have been brought to life.

Based on Dr Ambedkar’s Life, How Hollywood Movie ‘Origin’ Examines Global Connections of Caste
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The Bright Side 

Anyone who believes in human rights will be inspired by Ambedkar’s Hollywood big-screen debut in 2024. It is interesting to note that Ambedkar was not even mentioned even as a passing reference in Richard Attenborough’s 1982 film ‘Gandhi’. He appeared to have been “outcasted” from the action.

However, 41 years later, Ambedkar is finally included in a Hollywood film with an African American star, a potent union of the oppressed.

The lead actor’s outstanding performance and the director’s distinctive storytelling have garnered the film fantastic accolades on ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ in the United States.

The movie ‘Origin’ has been released both in the United States and the United Kingdom. The release dates for India have not yet been disclosed.

Also Read-

Based on Dr Ambedkar’s Life, How Hollywood Movie ‘Origin’ Examines Global Connections of Caste
'Origin': Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar's Hollywood Debut Enchants Ambedkarites
Based on Dr Ambedkar’s Life, How Hollywood Movie ‘Origin’ Examines Global Connections of Caste
Baba Saheb Goes Global: Pioneering Indian Films on the Iconic Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Ahead of Hollywood Debut

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