On a recent day in Los Angeles, Origin star Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor did something you don’t often see.
The award-winning actress, who leads the cast of the acclaimed new film, grabbed a stack of flyers promoting the drama and gave them to people outside a movie theater.
Origin tells a compelling story of racism, family, and loss. The drama from writer-director Ava DuVernay premiered in September at the Venice Film Festival, where DuVernay became the first African-American woman to have a movie compete in Venice.
The independent drama is distributed by Neon and began playing in select theaters in December. Yet it’s mostly been overlooked by awards voters.
Instead of hoping for audiences to hear about the film, Ellis-Taylor took the matter into her own hands. The actress put on a face mask and handed out flyers in front of an AMC theater, but eagle-eyed fans recognized her.
Video recorded outside the theater showed Ellis-Taylor removing her mask and engaging in a conversation about the film. The fans were gracious and excited to meet the actress, who was nominated for an Academy Award in 2022 for her performance in tennis drama, King Richard.
The footage appeared to be recorded in front of L.A.’s AMC Century City 15, where there’s a billboard promoting Origin.
After the video of Ellis-Taylor’s grassroots campaign began to circulate on social media, Ava DuVernay addressed the matter. The filmmaker reposted the footage to Instagram on Jan. 10, which showed Ellis-Taylor passing out the promotional cards.
DuVernay said the video made her “burst into tears.” Not because she was disappointed by Ellis-Taylor’s efforts, but because the actress is being overlooked this awards season.
“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. She was handing out postcards for our film at a local AMC in LA to passersby,” the director began. “She had told me that she wanted to remind herself about what matters. That she wanted to invite people to see our work.”
DuVernay said after watching the video, her “heart aches.”
“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,” DuVernay continued.
“I wish the world for her. All the flowers. All the gold statues. I wish so many things,” the 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.”
DuVernay praised the actress for her passion.
“Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, standing out on a windy day, passing out flyers for our film, I see you,” DuVernay said.
Origin is inspired by the 2020 novel Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson.
Ellis-Taylor portrays a fictionalized version of Wilkerson, as the author sets out to investigate racism in the U.S. and its parallels to the caste system in India and antisemitism in Nazi Germany.
The drama also stars Jon Bernthal, Niecy Nash-Betts, Emily Yancy, Finn Wittrock, Jasmine Cephas-Jones, Vera Farmiga, Audra McDonald, Connie Nielsen, Blair Underwood, Nick Offerman, Stephanie March, and Myles Frost.
The film was given a limited release and expands into additional theaters on Jan. 19. The trailer is below: