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Ava DuVernay directs Origin, an adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson’s non-fiction book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. The film, which did not receive any Oscar nominations, travels both geographically and through time to examine links between the enslavement of Africans, Nazi Germany, India’s caste system, and the continuing systemic oppression of Black people in the U.S.Supplied

Perhaps the most important film released in 2023 – the one that every American (and the rest of us) should see – will not win an Oscar this weekend. This is guaranteed; it did not receive a single nomination.

Ava DuVernay’s Origin opens with the murder of Trayvon Martin – it uses the actual recordings of the 911 calls made that night – and travels both geographically and through time to examine links between the enslavement of Africans, Nazi Germany, India’s caste system, and the continuing systemic oppression of Black people in the U.S.

This might sound like a preposterous overreach, but the film is an achievement that should rock audiences, with its lens pointed at systems of governance that keep people down, and the humanity that thrives in spite of them.

The Academy Award snub was made even worse amid all the hullabaloo over Greta Gerwig not being nominated for directing Barbie. That movie was terrific and Ms. Gerwig did deserve a nomination, as did others. And the biggest blockbuster of 2023 was at least recognized in other categories, including best film. Origin was completely passed over.

The film is adapted from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson’s 2020 weighty bestseller Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. In her book, Ms. Wilkerson theorizes that what society has viewed as race and class divisions – in the U.S., especially – are in fact part of a hierarchical caste system, an artificial construction created and perpetuated by those in power in order to maintain control.

The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where it received an eight-minute standing ovation. Its North American premiere was held at the Toronto International Film Festival, christening TIFF’s Viola Desmond Cinema, named for the Black Canadian civil rights activist. Origin had a short awards-qualifying run in New York and Los Angeles in December (it opened more widely in January), and it received glowing reviews from such cultural arbiters as the New York Times and the New Yorker. But on the major awards circuit: crickets.

As The Globe and Mail’s film critic Barry Hertz put it in January: “It is one of the most purely fascinating films of the season – demanding of discussion – yet hardly anyone outside a small group of critics seems to be talking about it.”

Days after Mr. Hertz’s interview with Ms. DuVernay was published, the Oscar nominations were announced, and Origin was shut out. Awards can be arbitrary and are subjective; this is not a science, after all. (Speaking of which, Oppenheimer is the Las Vegas favourite to win best film on Sunday.)

Not everyone loved Origin, including another Globe critic, Sarah-Tai Black. But I found the film’s minor cinematic shortfalls to be dwarfed by its political merits.

It is also a noteworthily innovative adaptation. In adapting non-fiction books, Hollywood generally goes for more straightforward biopics. In this case, Ms. DuVernay took the source material – an excellent but dense theoretical book about systemic oppression – and turned it into an utterly watchable film about the author’s theory, as well as a chronicle of the author’s life as she investigated it. (Ms. Wilkerson, played by Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor – another Oscar snub – is the film’s main character.)

While Ms. DuVernay was originally in talks with Netflix, she went the unorthodox route of acquiring funding from philanthropic foundations and donors instead, including the Ford Foundation and Melinda French Gates, so she could pursue her ambitious vision. “It was so helpful to make this outside the studio context, where I could break boundaries and experiment,” Ms. DuVernay told Mr. Hertz.

Failing to receive any attention from the Academy has no doubt hurt Origin’s visibility. Fewer Americans will see it in this crucial election year, with Donald Trump now the last Republican presidential candidate standing.

“It’s really important for this film to be out at this time when people are making decisions about the leadership of this country,” Ms. DuVernay told the New York Times last year. “When you look at what happened, it might echo and remind you this is happening now.”

In Caste, Ms. Wilkerson reminds readers that psychiatrists described Mr. Trump as a “malignant narcissist, a danger to the public,” following his 2016 election victory. But by 2020, amid the COVID-19 catastrophe, “the country was losing the capacity to be shocked; the unfathomable became just another part of one’s day, the discord of a single term portending more turmoil to come.”

We are at the “more turmoil to come” point – not just in the U.S., but globally. Who will provide the leadership from the perch of what is often described as the leader of the free world?

As Ms. Wilkerson writes: “we are in a time of peril. We are in an unspoken state of emergency.”

Anyway, enjoy the Oscars.

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