Who Is Brett Kelly Hamilton In Real-Life? Isabel Wilkerson's Origin Husband Details

By Klein Felt Posted:
Jon Bernthal as Brett Hamilton in Origin movie

Jon Bernthal brings to life the real-life husband of Isabel Wilkerson, Brett Kelly Hamilton, in this year's Origin film. 

Based on Isabel Wilkerson's book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, the movie from Selma and A Wrinkle in Time director Ava DuVernay follows the sweeping real-world tale of Wilkerson as she travels to research caste systems worldwide. 

The film was released theatrically in January 2024 after a debut at the 2023 Venice Film Festival before coming to PVOD in mid-March.

Who Is Origin's Brett Hamilton?

Jon Bernthal as Brett Hamilton in Origin movie

One of the primary characters seen in Ava DuVernay's Origin movie, Brett Kelly Hamilton, was a real person before his appearance in the film. 

Hamilton was the real-life husband of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents author and renowned journalist Isabel Wilkerson, who can be seen on-screen in the movie played by Walking Dead star Jon Bernthal. 

Hamilton tragically passed away in 2015, before the release of Wilkerson's book (which hit store shelves in 2020), due to a seizure. 

He was 46 years old when he passed away. He is survived by his wife, Wilkerson, and two children, Ansley and Rafe.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Hamilton graduated from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, where he studied mathematics and physics.

He would go on to have a successful career as a financial analyst in the American healthcare industry and participate in several major volunteer projects, helping to build medical facilities in third-world countries like Ghana and Guatemala. 

Throughout his life, Hamilton suffered from severe health issues and was diagnosed with a rare, nonmalignant brain tumor in 2000, which he dealt with up until his death (per his obituary). 

Speaking about her dearly departed husband in a November 2015 Facebook post, Wilkerson described his affliction, writing that despite "years of surgeries, seizures, and setbacks," he "kept a quiet inner strength and loving devotion" to her as she wrote her acclaimed book:

"My beloved Brett endured years of surgeries, seizures, and setbacks upon being diagnosed with a rare brain tumor, but he kept a quiet inner strength and loving devotion for me through the roller-coaster journey of getting this book out into the world. He was there by my side, cheering me on, traveling with me when able or watching the home front, making the last five years of public engagement and family bliss not only possible but one of the great joys of my life."

In a September 2023 Vogue World profile of the author, she called his death (along with that of her mother around the same time) "an incomprehensible vanishing." Despite this, she tried to remain positive and get her book out. 

Jon Bernthal, who played Brett Hamilton in the movie based on Wilkerson's life, reiterated how supportive of his wife Hamilton was. 

The star actor remarked that his Origin character and the man he was based on is the kind of "man who is there to bring the tea and find the keys," being that "enormously supportive structure" for his wife (via The Guardian):

"Brett is this man who is there to bring the tea and find the keys and take out the trash, just to be this enormously supportive structure and I thought, you know, it’s really something you don’t see in films often, that the man has that role."

In an interview with Collider, Bernthal reiterated this sentiment, saying Hamilton was the kind of person who "loved [his wife] so much" that he was not afraid to "tell her hard truths" or "tell her when he thinks she’s lying to herself:"

"We also wanted him to be the kind of person that believed in her so much and loved her so much, and it’s such an unbelievably necessary and important tenet of love that he also was able to tell her hard truths and to tell her when he thinks she’s lying to herself and when she’s running from her responsibilities or when she’s scared or hiding."

Despite passing nearly a decade ago, Hamilton's legacy lives on in every copy of Caste sold. 

Wilkerson included a tribute to her husband in the book, writing that it was dedicated to "the memory of [her] parents who survived the caste system" and her husband who "defied it:"

"To the memory of my parents who survived the caste system and to the memory of Brett who defied it

Finally, I am grateful beyond language for the love and devotion of Brett Hamilton, the kindest and most giving husband I could have wished for, a gift from the universe. Many of the observations in this book first found a voice in our deeply fulfilling conversations and in our life together. While it breaks my heart that neither he nor my parents lived to see this culmination of what we, each in our own ways, sought to transcend, I feel his cosmic embrace as I send this out to the world, and I know that all three of them are with me now and always."

Ava DuVernay included the same encomium to Hamilton in the Origin film and shared the dedication in the movie as well. 

Origin is streaming now on Hulu

- About The Author: Klein Felt
Klein Felt is a Senior Editor at The Direct. Joining the website back in 2020, he helped jumpstart video game content on The Direct. Klein plays a vital role as a part of the site's content team, demonstrating expertise in all things PlayStation, Marvel, and the greater entertainment industry.