Origin: Is Miss Hale Based on a Real Friend of Isabel?

The 2023 biographical drama ‘Origin’ depicts a weighty conversation between Isabel Wilkerson, a journalist, and her friend, Miss Hale. Following her husband and kids’ departure after dinner, Miss recounts a tale about her childhood when her high school principal called her into his office. Isabel listens with rapt attention as her friend divulges events relating to racial prejudice and the origin of her friend’s name. The pair have a moment to share and reflect on their personal lives as well, as Isabel opens up to Miss about her internal struggles since the death of her husband, Brett, and mother, Ruby. Their interactions serve as a poignant connection between Miss and the writer, who has been alone for a while. The former’s emotional support becomes a key element within the narrative, prompting further investigation into their friendship and Miss Hale’s origin.

Miss Hale: A Fictionalized Version of a Real Person

Miss Hale from ‘Origin’ has roots in an actual person. However, the character’s profound bond of friendship with Isabel Wilkerson, as depicted in the film, remains fictional. Writer and director Ava DuVernay crafted the dynamic to instill a moment of genuineness in a suffering Isabel who needs to share the burden she has been carrying since the death of her loved ones. Thus, although Miss Hale is a real person, she is not friends with Isabel. In the film, as Isabel recalls her times with Brett and her mother, Ruby, to Miss, she undergoes a cathartic experience of letting things off her chest. Her focus has solely been fixed on the subject matter of her book while her personal life has been suffering. As such, their connection allows her to breathe and freely let it all out.

Miss Hale is a real person who appears in Isabel’s nonfiction novel ‘Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.’ Nonetheless, she’s only present as an interview subject rather than a previous acquaintance. In the book’s early sections, Isabel interviews Hale after her husband and kids leave them sitting at the dinner table at her house. The pair candidly discuss Miss’ father, Mr. Harold Hale, who grew up during a deep divide between the white and black population. Since most white people at the time would use superlatives like boy, gal, or auntie to address black people, Mr. Hale came to hate this act of overfamiliarity. Thus, when he had his daughter, he named her Miss so she would be addressed with dignity and respect. In real life, Hale shared her experience with racial prejudices and her problems at high school with the principal, which Wilkerson included in her work. Yet, their relationship never went into friendship territory as it’s portrayed in the film.

Miss Hale: The Book Vs. The Film

The events in the film concerning Miss Hale and Isabel’s closeness are fabricated but with reason attached to them. ‘Origin depicts a version of events where Isabel is a regular guest within the Hale household. Miss’ husband even asks Isabel jokingly to drop by more frequently so he can get more lasagna during dinner. This small moment hints at a long-established relationship between Isabel and Miss over the past years and months. She is a familiar face among the Hales and is warmly welcomed at any point. Such isn’t the case in reality. In the book, after reminiscing about Mr. Harold Hale’s life, Miss and Isabel discuss the former’s experience with her high school principal, who once threatened her in his office as a direct act of racism.

Similar narrative elements are followed within the film when the pair discuss the story about the principal. However, Isabel and Miss’ conversation in the kitchen afterward becomes pivotal in the dramatized biography. After a long period of bottling her emotions from the death of Brett and her mother, Isabel is vulnerable and looking for support. Miss lends a helpful ear to her friend’s struggles and a sad reflection of her loneliness. Therefore, she plays a significant role in emotionally helping Isabel get through a tough time in her life.

Consequently, Miss’ on-screen character allows the viewer to get a glimpse into Isabel’s mental state through this heartfelt conversation. It offers a moment of connection and a lens into the scholarly protagonist’s battle within herself. In many ways, Isabel’s trip to visit Miss is fruitful, both emotionally and professionally. However, although Miss retains ties to a real-life counterpart, who was interviewed within Wilkerson’s real book, the deep bond showcased between the two characters in the film remains an instance of adopted creative liberty.

Read more: Origin: 8 Similar Movies That Explore Racism and Caste Bias