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Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor on “Origin”’s Lack of Awards Recognition: ‘We Award the White Guys’ (Exclusive)

When it comes to Hollywood awarding Black female filmmakers like Ava DuVernay, “it feels like a disconnect,” says Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor

<p>Kevin Winter/WireImage</p> Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor in 2023

Kevin Winter/WireImage

Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor in 2023

Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor is recognizing the ingenuity that went into her new movie — and wishing Hollywood would do the same.

“I wish we had more to do,” Ellis-Taylor tells PEOPLE candidly, to promote Origin (in theaters today), Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson’s hit book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent.

“This film does something that is very, very brave,” says the actress, 54, who plays Wilkerson in the film.

“I think it is brave creatively, I think it is brave in its message, I think it confronts things in a way that is innovative. And I just think that we [in Hollywood] award the white guys for that kind of work.”

At the start of this year's awards season, Ellis-Taylor was recognized for Origin with a nomination at the Gotham Awards. Her performance and the film, however, have failed to land nominations with the Golden Globes, BAFTA Awards and more, despite praise following its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival.

The King Richard Oscar nominee leads Origin as Wilkerson, the journalist and best-selling author of 2010’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. In adapting her 2020 book Caste for the screen, DuVernay, 51, centered her new film around Wilkerson’s writing of that non-fiction book — which connects racism in the United States to the caste systems of Dalits in India and Jews in Nazi Germany.

“It is this time, this moment, that we have to look at what we are doing to each other,” says Ellis-Taylor of the film’s relevance today. 

“What's happening is not central, it's not just the American experience. It's an experience that is vast, it's wide, it's cross-cultural, it crosses time. We are connected to the Indian experience, we are connected to the Jewish experience, and the knowledge of that gives us more strength to fight those forces that would keep those divisions in place.”

Related: 'King Richard' Oscar Nominee Aunjanue Ellis Says She Is 'Very Clear About Being Bisexual': 'Who I Am'

<p>Charley Gallay/Getty</p> (Left to right:) Aunjanue Ellis-Taylro and Ava DuVernay in 2019

Charley Gallay/Getty

(Left to right:) Aunjanue Ellis-Taylro and Ava DuVernay in 2019

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It’s difficult, she adds, not to see similar divisions in how the moviemaking industry fails to prioritize talent and projects from Black women, like DuVernay, come awards season. “You just go, ‘Why aren't they a part of these conversations?’”

And while she wants DuVernay “to feel affirmed by the industry that she works in,” Ellis-Taylor says she’s not the only Black female filmmaker lacking recognition.

“In this season we've had some beautiful, beautiful work with A.V. Rockwell in A Thousand and One, Savanah Leaf with Earth Mama, and Raven Jackson in All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt. Gorgeous, subtle, nuanced, innovative filmmaking.”

“It feels like a disconnect,” Ellis-Taylor says, between enthusiastic responses from audiences who have previewed Origin and the lack of awards recognition. Angelina Jolie threw a party for Oscar voters honoring the film, DuVernay and Ellis-Taylor earlier this week, while Ben Affleck and Regina King have promoted Origin with other events. 

Attending the 2024 Critics Choice Awards on Sunday was “hard,” adds Ellis-Taylor, who was nominated for her leading actress work in drama series Justified: City Primeval. “I was glad that I was there to celebrate Justified, but I felt like Origin should have been there.” (On Thursday — after the ceremony — DuVernay’s film received a special honor from the Critics Choice Association, the org’s Seal of Female Empowerment in Entertainment.)

<p>NEON</p> Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor in "Origin"

NEON

Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor in "Origin"

Related: Ava DuVernay on the 'Dark Void' She Felt After Father's Death and How That Influenced Origin (Exclusive)

DuVernay told PEOPLE this month that "we believed in [Origin], others believed in it and the response that we've gotten has been incredible.” 

The movie, she added, "says everything that I want to say about this time" in terms of international conflicts and tensions today. "This film can be a place where we can hold hands a bit and connect around emotions as opposed to all of the things that feel like they're dividing us.”

Origin, in theaters now, costars Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Audra McDonald, Niecy Nash-Betts, Nick Offerman and Blair Underwood.

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