Netflix Film by Celebrated Black Filmmaker Will Feature BR Ambedkar's Character
Director Ava DuVernay is making a film on Isabel Wilkerson's book 'Caste' for Netflix.
The Quint DAILY
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Social media has been abuzz for the last few days with a casting call for actors to play the role of Dr BR Ambedkar as a child and adult in a Netflix feature film that was originally announced in 2020. Celebrated African American director Ava DuVernay will direct the film.
What is special about the casting call, the veracity of which has been confirmed by The Quint, is the line that says – "Actors from the Ambedkar community are encouraged to apply."
While the phrase 'Ambedkar community' sounds slightly odd, the text does rightly point out Ambedkar's caste location as Dalit and this phrase too, we believe, has been used to denote that identity.
DuVernay is known for making films and documentaries centring the African American community. Her 2014 feature film Selma was a biopic of Martin Luther King Jr, and focussed on his Selma to Montgomery march in 1965, demanding voting rights for the African Americans. Duvernay made history with this film by becoming the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Director and the Academy Award for Best Picture.
She again made history in 2018 when she directed the Disney fantasy film A Wrinkle in Time, by becoming the first African-American woman to direct a film with a budget of $100 million.
She won accolades and critical praise for her 2019 Netflix documentary, When They See Us, depicting the case of five Black and Latino males falsely accused of raping and assaulting a white woman in 1989.
The new film, for which the casting call is being circulated, is based on Isabel Wilkerson's 2020 book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. The book was widely read in India.
Ambedkarites Excited About the Film
Yashica Dutt, journalist based in New York and writer of the book Coming Out as Dalit: A Memoir, told The Quint that DuVernay making a film that will depict Ambedkar and also bring India's caste system to global attention is a cause for celebration. She further said that DuVernay is one of the few filmmakers whose work is changing Hollywood.
Dutt had reviewed Wilkerson's nonfiction book for an issue of Foreign Policy magazine in 2020, in which she had expressed cautious appreciation for it because even though it brilliantly frames racial hierarchies in the United States, it largely ignores the horrors of India’s caste structure.
Stating that DuVernay brings grace, deft and nuance to her work, Dutt hopes the director will give more footage to India's caste problem in her film than the book did. She also expressed the desire that the director's team should reach out to Dalits for a historically and sociologically sound portrayal of the topic.
Takshak, who is a member of Ambedkar International Center, a United States-based anti-caste organisation, expressed similar hope. The organisation had received a mail from Anissa Garcia, casting associate with Aisha Coley Casting, the agency that is handling casting for the film, regarding casting the actors for Ambedkar's role.
The mail said, "We are working on an upcoming independent film based on a book, and we are seeking to cast someone to play the esteemed Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar. We were hoping to have a conversation with you about the role, how to authentically cast it, and perhaps how to explore the Indian community more deeply."
Casting director Aisha Coley, who is handling casting for the film, has been a long-term partner of DuVernay, working on almost all her projects. DuVernay is known for working with predominantly Black crew, with equal representation of women, and her actors too are predominantly Black.
Takshak stated that DuVernay's film will set the record straight that Dr Ambedkar is the true leader of Untouchables and needs to be seen as a parallel to Black revolutionaries, and not Mahatma Gandhi.
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