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Ava DuVernay Wants Every American 16-Year-Old To See Her New Film for Free

Ava DuVernay speaks at TED from a chair on stage

Acclaimed writer, producer, and director Ava DuVernay is best known for her titles “Selma,” “13th,” “When They See Us,” and “A Wrinkle In Time.” 

But along with her new movie, “Origin,” which debuts in December 2023, she wants to share the gift of education with teens across the country.

“Origin” is inspired by the best-selling nonfiction book by Isabel Wilkerson, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” 

While “Caste” is a nonfiction read that ties together Wilkinson’s theory about a powerful caste system in the United States, similar to those of India and Nazi Germany, DuVernay’s film is a narrative film. 

It features actors Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Audra McDonald, Niecy Nash-Betts, Nick Offerman, and Blair Underwood. (Some of whom can be spotted in the film’s teaser trailer). 

Host Pat Mitchell and Ava DuVernay speak at TED in a theater, with the word Origin on the screen in the background
Host Pat Mitchell and Ava DuVernay speak at SESSION 1 at TEDWomen 2023: Two Steps Forward. October 11-13, 2023, Atlanta, GA. Photo: Jasmina Tomic / TED

DuVernay appeared at TEDWomen in Atlanta, Georgia on Wednesday to discuss the film — which recently stunned audiences at Venice Film Festival

In conversation with TED host Pat Mitchell, DuVernay shared what she finds most important about the film.

“The book really grabbed me… I read it three times and I started to feel really connected to some of the stories and some of the characters the author uses to bring us into this idea she has; this thesis that so much of our oppression is linked,” DuVernay said. 

“And if we embrace some of the commonalities of our challenges, that there was a way forward. A blueprint to combat some of our social ills.” 

Wilkerson’s life and work became the impetus for the film, DuVernay said, and Aunjanue Ellis plays the author in the movie, traveling to three continents throughout production. 

“People told me this was an unadaptable book, so the only logical thing to do is try to adapt it,” she joked on stage at TED.

16-year-olds in America can access free tickets to see DuVernay’s new film ‘Origin’

This body of work, she said, was so important that she felt it necessary to make sure this film is accessible to young people across the country.

So she launched Seat16.com, a website where anyone can visit and donate $16 to gift a ticket and a digital learning companion to teens in the United States. 

“Starting this December, we want to share ‘Origin’ with 10,000 young people,” the website states. “Let’s help them change the world.” 

In the face of ongoing book bans and concerning regulations limiting meaningful curriculum about the U.S. history of slavery and systemic racism, “Origin” is not only a narrative film; DuVernay sees it as an important addition to any young American’s syllabus.

Ava DuVernay speaks at TED from a chair on stage, with Pat Mitchell in the foreground
Host Pat Mitchell and Ava DuVernay speak at SESSION 1 at TEDWomen 2023: Two Steps Forward. October 11-13, 2023, Atlanta, GA. Photo: Jasmina Tomic / TED

“I need to make sure it [the film] gets to the audience, that it reaches folks, that it’s understood, that it’s interrogated, that it’s shared,” she said on the TED stage. “So, I have this crazy idea that I want every 16-year-old in the country to see the film for free, if they want.”

She reminds the quickly-impressed audience that there are 4 million 16-year-olds in the country right now, but she still wants to reach as many as she can, with a starting goal of 10,000 (or $160,000 in donations).

“The idea that, at that age, you’re starting to interrogate your place in the world, and what the world means to you, and how you fit in, it’s such a tender age, especially at this time, that young people be able to autonomous in what they learn,” DuVernay said. 

“That they’re not told what they can’t learn. That they’re able to read what they want to read, see what they want to see. So, that’s our little solution.” 

Host Pat Mitchell and Ava DuVernay speak at TED in a theater, with the word Origin on the screen in the background
Host Pat Mitchell and Ava DuVernay speak at SESSION 1 at TEDWomen 2023: Two Steps Forward. October 11-13, 2023, Atlanta, GA. Photo: Jasmina Tomic / TED

The ticket donations go into a fund through DuVernay’s Array Alliance, Inc. and when the film comes out, tickets will be distributed to young people. 

“I want people to enter into the film with an open heart and mind. I’ve seen when people do that — with this work, for whatever reason — good things happen.”

Header image: Ava DuVernay speaks at SESSION 1 at TEDWomen 2023: Two Steps Forward. October 11-13, 2023, Atlanta, GA. Photo: Jasmina Tomic / TED

Article Details

October 12, 2023 8:07 AM
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