Ava DuVernay: Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor Hasn’t Received the ‘Recognition’ for ‘Origin,’ and ‘My Heart Aches’

Ava DuVernay is speaking out on “Origin” lead star Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor’s grassroots marketing campaign for the film.

DuVernay posted an Instagram video showing Ellis-Taylor handing out flyers for “Origin” at a Los Angeles AMC theater on Sunday, January 7, the same day as the Golden Globes. To note, “Origin” was not nominated during the awards show, and neither DuVernay nor Ellis-Taylor were in attendance.

“Someone posted this footage, and I burst into tears. This was apparently taken last Sunday, Golden Globes day. This is a video of Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor. Our lead actress in ‘Origin.’ She wasn’t nominated that day,” DuVernay wrote. “She was handing out postcards for our film at a local AMC in LA to passersby. She had told me that she wanted to remind herself about what matters. That she wanted to invite people to see our work, and that she would stay low profile, keep on her mask. That it wasn’t about her, but about the movie. Someone noticed her. And recorded her. And now I see this – and my heart aches.”

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DuVernay continued, “I wish she didn’t have to do this to remind herself. I wish she was at the Globes or SAG Awards or Critics Choice or the other nominations that didn’t come. I wish she had commercials and magazine covers and all the things that are arranged for the actresses we are supposed to pay attention to in the awards season. I wish she felt the recognition and praise that swirls around her peers in big studio films. I wish the world for her. All the flowers. All the gold statues. I wish so many things.”

The “Selma” writer-director added, “But in this video, she reminds me to move from wishing to what matters. And what matters is WHY WE MADE THIS FILM and WHY WE DO THIS WORK. For people. To be in community with others. To reach for someone else’s hand and recognize oneself. To tell stories of human dignity and justice. Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, standing out on a windy day, passing out flyers for our film, I see you. Your brave heart. Your singular way of moving through the world. You are the definition of Best Lead Actress. You lead me away from wishing for things not meant to be. To focus on the beauty of what matters and what is.”

Oscar winner Octavia Spencer commented on DuVernay’s video that “everyone needs to see this movie, [it] should be shown in schools.”

“Origin” is adapted from 2020 nonfiction bestseller “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson. Ellis-Taylor stars as author Isabel, a woman who faces personal tragedy and sets out to investigate what racism and pain look like on a global scale. The film debuted at the Venice Film Festival before playing at TIFF. “Origin” premieres January 19 in select theaters from Neon, but had an awards-qualifying limited release in December 2023.

DuVernay told Vanity Fair that it’s “unfortunate” certain films by directors of color need to seek out audiences “because we watch films from all over the world that have nothing to do with me, and we watch it because we don’t have to be centered, we are used to that because we are so often not centered.”

DuVernay added, “I don’t want this to be misconstrued – I’m just saying certain people need a certain kind of invitation, and those of us who are perhaps used to not being centered don’t need that invitation or else we wouldn’t be watching anything. But if you require that invitation, it’s necessary.”

She previously told Deadline that “Origin” was meant to be “seeking engagement” and a larger sociopolitical conversation. “We have to talk about ‘how do we not see what’s going on?’ You know, they’re literally taking books off shelves in our country, they’re literally denying history, we can’t just say it’s ‘they’ — we are allowing it. It is happening here and now,” she said. “So, looking back over history, we need to remember where this stuff leads. Understand that we’re in the midst of it. We can argue about it, we can debate it, but we need to be thinking about it and talking about it and actively engaging. And so that is my hope — I hope people come out of ‘Origin’ talking.”

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