Directed by: Ava DuVernay

Written by: Ava DuVernay & Spencer Averick

Disenfranchising black and brown bodies did not stop after the 13th amendment passed that outlawed slavery. It just caused the slave owners to get more clever in the way they could trap people of color into servitude. Fast forward to the present and these same subsections of the American population fill up prisons due to mandatory sentencing and the perpetuation of a vicious cycle. 

Ava DuVernay never holds back in her filmmaking and with 13th she sets out to eradicate myths about when African-American communities experienced “freedom.” Through this documentary, she takes us back to when the 13th amendment passed, which sought to end slavery but then it lead into the era of Jim Crow and the other legal debilitating ways African-Americans were not allowed to prosper after they were set free. It ultimately slaps away the assertions of those who tell African-Americans that slavery ended in the 1800s and to “get over it.”

The documentary utilizes the insights and opinions of many scholars and political talking heads along the entire political spectrum. This systemic oppression did not happen overnight and came together through intentional pieces of legislation from parties looking to benefit. One being the private-prison system that helped craft legislation that would funnel in black and brown bodies into their facilities, where they would make a profit. As pointed out in the documentary, the United States holds 5% of the world population while holding 25% of incarcerated individuals. Is that number so high because Americans are more lawless than people from other nations? I don’t think many agree with that, so there must be another reason to why these individuals are being dragged into prison for such an alarming rate. 

Through each section, DuVernay inputs songs and spoken word to bring light to the injustice taking place. It shows that pain endured and the fight needed to take down the system of mass incarceration. She shows that politicians from both major political parties contributed to this mess. No side can claim innocence from the system they contributed to. This documentary does not parse words or get too cute with its material. DuVernay has a message she wants to convey and does so with fortitude.

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