Finding the ‘Origin’ of the Oscar Problem: Why Isn’t Ava DuVernay’s Best Film Winning Awards?

Finding the ‘Origin’ of the Oscar Problem: Why Isn’t Ava DuVernay’s Best Film Winning Awards?

Movies

Ava DuVernay’s “Origin” is a masterpiece, but so far, the sprawling look at the roots of hate has failed to land some of the major film prizes.

After watching the movie at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, I thought I’d seen a prime Oscar best picture contender, and that DuVernay might get her first directing nomination. Factor in Neon, the film’s distributor and the studio behind “Parasite’s” Oscar-dominating run, and “Origin” seemed poised to be an awards season force.

But I’m beginning to wonder. Early industry awards groups, such as AFI, New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, have all but overlooked “Origin.” It was left off AFI’s list of the 10 best films, and both Critics Choice and Golden Globes passed it over. So what’s going on here?

Read: Variety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

Written and directed by DuVernay, “Origin” is an adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson’s bestselling book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” It chronicles the author’s quest to unravel humanity’s divisions as she writes her acclaimed nonfiction work. Guided by a stellar performance from Oscar nominee Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor (“King Richard”), the film artfully balances probing inquiries into prejudice with a deeply human examination of love and grief as Wilkerson deals with her own loss.

Is the problem that the predominantly white Academy isn’t embracing a movie by a Black filmmaker that stars a Black actress in a story about the Black experience? Has the film’s marketing campaign failed to convey how universal “Origin’s” story is — and that its themes and concerns resonate with viewers regardless of race, gender, creed or sexual orientation?

For her part, DuVernay dismisses the idea that her film is a “Black movie.” “The film is about a woman who has a question and goes out in the world to find it,” DuVernay tells Variety. “What are films called made by people who aren’t Black? Are they defined by their race? Then why is my film defined by mine?”

She’s asking the right questions, of course. However, the sad fact is that media coverage of movies like Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” or DuVernay’s own “Selma” too often focuses on the skin color of their creators. That’s particularly infuriating considering that movies from non-Black artists aren’t similarly defined — nobody mentions the race of the director of, say, “Forrest Gump” or “A Beautiful Mind.”

Atsushi Nishijima / Neon

“Origin” is one of the first times Ellis-Taylor has been the lead of a movie, and she presents a heartbreaking and emotional turn that stands as her career’s best work yet. During the run for “King Richard,” for which she received an Oscar nom for supporting actress, she was used to following what the studio and the film’s star and co-producer Will Smith had planned for promoting the movie. “These are things that I was completely unaware of,” she recalls for an upcoming Variety Awards Circuit Podcast episode. “I was having a conversation with my representatives, agent, and manager about promoting the film. I was like, ‘I don’t know anything about that. They just told me where to go. Will [Smith] did this and that.’ And they said to me, ‘Well, now you’re Will.’ And I couldn’t sleep that night. It’s another kind of responsibility because it’s not just about me; it’s about everybody.”

Reviews for “Origin” have been strong. Numerous tastemakers and screenings, both here and abroad, have generated overwhelmingly positive reactions from attendees. Yet, according to one insider, many screenings have struggled to fill their seats. That hasn’t been the case with other Black-centric stories this season, such as Cord Jefferson’s satirical “American Fiction” and Blitz Bazawule’s musical reimagining of “The Color Purple.” Why aren’t people showing up for “Origin”?

This is a great movie. It needs to be seen. Will the Academy and other awards voters give “Origin” the chance it deserves, or are they unfairly dismissing it? DuVernay, like her film’s heroine, poses a more troubling thought: “Would this offering be seen and accepted differently if it came from someone else?”

Read the latest prediction updates below and go to the individual category pages to see where the films and performances rank. Projected winners are marked with red asterisks (***).


Best Picture
“American Fiction” (MGM)
“Anatomy of a Fall” (Neon)
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“The Holdovers” (Focus Features)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Maestro” (Netflix)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) ***
“Past Lives” (A24)
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)
“The Zone of Interest” (A24)

Director
Greta Gerwig — “Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
Jonathan Glazer — “The Zone of Interest” (A24)
Christopher Nolan — “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) ***
Alexander Payne — “The Holdovers” (Focus Features)
Martin Scorsese — “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper — “Maestro” (Netflix) ***
Colman Domingo — “Rustin” (Netflix)
Paul Giamatti — “The Holdovers” (Focus Features)
Cillian Murphy — “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
Jeffrey Wright — “American Fiction” (MGM)

Best Actress
Lily Gladstone — “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
Sandra Hüller — “Anatomy of a Fall” (Neon)
Greta Lee — “Past Lives” (A24)
Carey Mulligan — “Maestro” (Netflix)
Emma Stone — “Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures) ***

Supporting Actor
Robert DeNiro — “Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
Robert Downey Jr. — “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
Ryan Gosling — “Barbie” (Warner Bros.) ***
Charles Melton — “May December” (Netflix)
Mark Ruffalo — “Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

Supporting Actress
Emily Blunt — “Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
Danielle Brooks — “The Color Purple” (Warner Bros.)
America Ferrera — “Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
Rachel McAdams — “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” (Lionsgate)
Da’Vine Joy Randolph — “The Holdovers” (Focus Features) ***

Original Screenplay
“Anatomy of a Fall” (Neon)
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.) ***
“The Holdovers” (Focus Features)
“May December” (Netflix)
“Past Lives” (A24)

Adapted Screenplay
“All of Us Strangers” (Searchlight Pictures)
“American Fiction” (MGM) ***
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

Animated Feature
“The Boy and the Heron” (GKids)
“Elemental” (Pixar)
“Nimona” (Netflix)
“Robot Dreams” (Neon)
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures) ***

Production Design
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
“Napoleon” (Apple Original Films/Sony Pictures)
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures) ***

Cinematography
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Maestro” (Netflix)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) ***
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)
“Saltburn” (Amazon MGM Studios)

Costume Design
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” (Lionsgate)
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.) ***
“The Color Purple” (Warner Bros.)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

Film Editing
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“The Holdovers” (Focus Features)
“Maestro” (Netflix)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) ***
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

Makeup and Hairstyling
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“Ferrari” (Neon)
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (Marvel Studios)
“Maestro” (Netflix) ***
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)

Sound
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Maestro” (Netflix)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) ***
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures)
“The Zone of Interest” (A24)

Visual Effects
“The Creator” (20th Century Studios) ***
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (Marvel Studios)
“Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire” (Netflix)
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures)
“Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” (Paramount Pictures)

Original Score
“The Boy and the Heron” (GKids)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures) ***
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures)

Original Song
“What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie” (Warner Bros.) ***
“I’m Just Ken” from “Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“The Fire Inside” from “Flamin’ Hot” (Hulu/Searchlight Pictures)
“Road to Freedom” from “Rustin” (Netflix)
“Addicted to Romance” from “She Came to Me” (Vertical Entertainment)

Documentary Feature
“20 Days in Mariupol” (PBS)
“American Symphony” (Netflix) ***
“Four Daughters” (Kino Lorber)
“Little Richard: I Am Everything” (Magnolia Pictures)
“The Mission” (National Geographic)

International Feature
“Fallen Leaves” from Finland (Mubi)
“Society of the Snow” from Spain (Netflix)
“The Taste of Things” from France (IFC Films)
“The Teachers’ Lounge” from Germany (Sony Pictures Classics)
“The Zone of Interest” from U.K. (A24) ***

Animated Short
“Backflip” (The New York Times Op-Docs)
“Once Upon a Studio” (Walt Disney Pictures) ***
“Morning Joy” (Liaison Pictures)
“The Smeds and The Smoos” (Les Films du Préau)
“Starling” (The Animation Showcase)

Documentary Short
“The ABCs of Book Banning” (MTV Documentary Films/Paramount+)
“Away” (The New York Times Op-Docs)
“Deciding Vote” (The New Yorker)
“The Last Repair Shop” (Searchlight Pictures) ***
“Relighting Candles: The Tim Sullivan Story” (To be announced)

Live Action Short
“The After” (Netflix)
“The Old Young Crow” (Distributor TBA)
“The Shepherd” (Walt Disney Pictures)
“A Strange Way of Life” (Sony Pictures Classics) ***
“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” (Netflix)

Top 4 Nomination Leaders Tracking (Film)

  1. “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” — 11
  2. “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “Poor Things” — 10
  3. “Maestro” – 7
  4. “The Holdovers” — 6

Top 4 Nomination Leaders Tracking (Studios)

  1. Netflix — 17
  2. Warner Bros. — 13
  3. Searchlight Pictures — 12
  4. Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures — 11

Oscars Predictions Categories

BEST PICTURE | DIRECTOR | BEST ACTOR | BEST ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE | PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND | VISUAL EFFECTS | ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE | INTERNATIONAL FEATURE | ANIMATED SHORT | DOCUMENTARY SHORT | LIVE ACTION SHORT

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