Ava DuVernay to Adapt Bestselling Nonfiction Book ‘Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents’ for Netflix

The acclaimed book explores social stratification in the U.S. by comparing it to India and Nazi Germany's caste systems.
FILE - In this Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, file photo, Ava DuVernay speaks at the OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network's "Cherish the Day" series panel during the Discovery Network TCA 2020 Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif. John Legend, Gabrielle Union and Ava DuVernay are some of the many black cultural leaders who have signed a letter to fight against racism, promote equal pay and ask industries to disassociate from police. The letter was released Friday, June 19, 2020 by a new organization called the Black Artists for Freedom, which describes itself as a collective of black workers in the culture industries. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)
Ava DuVernay
Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

Ava DuVernay will adapt a new feature film for Netflix based on the nonfiction book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” The book, written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Isabel Wilkerson, examines race as a system of social stratification in the US. DuVernay will direct, write, and produce the movie, which will mark her first feature at Netflix. DuVernay’s most recent project for the streamer, the Central Park Five limited series “When They See Us,” earned 16 Emmy nominations. There’s no word on when Netflix plans to release “Caste.”

When it was published in August, Wilkerson’s book earned huge praise from critics and was named an Oprah’s Book Club selection. It’s in its ninth week on the New York Times Best Sellers list, currently standing in the number-three spot.

“Caste” examines racism in American society by comparing it to well-known caste systems in India and Nazi Germany and introducing the novel concept of an American caste system. In India, the system of social stratification dates back thousands of years and includes thousands of distinct castes and sub-castes based on factors including occupation and background.

Wilkerson argues the commonality between the three is that all revolve around “an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning.”

The connection between American racism and caste? “What some people call racism could be seen as merely one manifestation of the degree to which we have internalized the larger American caste system,” she writes.

New York Times book critic Dwight Garner called Wilkerson’s work “an extraordinary document, one that strikes me as an instant American classic and almost certainly the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far.”

DuVernay, whose documentary “13th” earned her an Oscar nomination, is also currently producing a limited series for Netflix based on the adolescent life of NFL quarterback and noted civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick.

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