Review: Ava DuVernay’s ‘The 13th’ Is The Most Important Documentary This Year
Ava DuVernay opens a discussion on the racial divide with “The 13th.”
Racism is one of the most controversial, sociopolitical issues in the United States. More recently the phrase “Black Lives Matter” has raised even more attention. For some this phrase has been a sign of awareness and for others it’s perpetuated anger. With unresolved conflict between so many, Ava DuVernay’s “The 13th” could not have come at a better time.
“The 13th” explores racial inequality from a perspective few have seen. Focusing on the United States prison system, DuVernay reveals historical, correlating evidence exposing the roots of modern day racism. Starting with present day prison statistics, “The 13th” quickly moves to the past. It exposes the racial disparity between convicts starting with slavery. While an argument that many have heard before, this documentary has the strongest factual basis.
Focus then shifts to a clause in the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. While this amendment was responsible for abolishing slavery, it’s the exception that gets the spotlight.
Amendment XIII, Section 1
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
With criminals not being subject to this law, there was a loophole exploited in the south. As the documentary points out, abolishing slavery was not the end of African American hardships. The south suffered economically and tensions rose. It’s both logical and factual that former slaves were unfairly treated. That unfairness extended unreasonable criminal convictions and a lifelong stigma.
DuVernay provides visual and statistical evidence of these cases. Through photos, videos, and the backing of multiple scholars, “The 13th” provides undeniable proof of discrimination. But this is not a new idea. What “The 13th” does differently is clearly lays the foundation for a progressive rise of discrimination.
Culturally I do not have ancestral relations to slavery. For those that do, this documentary may be supplemental to their knowledge. For me, it was an eye opener. I am a logical and open-minded person so fact shapes my opinions. What Ava DuVernay does with “The 13th” is provide perspective for all.
From slavery, the documentary moves to the “War on Drugs” and then to mandatory prison sentencing. On the surface, these were policies that most of us were sold on. Now these policies have been brought into question when examined more closely. “The 13th” shows the racial bias that existed within these policies and continues the timeline that initiated at the ratification of the 13th amendment.
This isn’t a documentary about white versus black. But I’m sure that some will see it that way. This is a documentary about the deception of the public. It’s about looking at things from another angle and keeping an open mind.
“The 13th” does not raise a question as much as it introduces fact. For that reason it doesn’t remain neutral like other documentaries and makes its motives clear. Nonetheless that doesn’t make it any less impactful. “The 13th” may clearly state its intentions but it serves its purpose well. Those intentions go against the grain of what we know. Questioning what we’re told is one of the clearest paths to objective thought. For that reason, “The 13th” is my favorite documentary of the year.
“The 13th” releases on Netflix October 7, 2016. Be sure to tell us your thoughts once you watch!
- Documentary Score
"The 13th" is one of the most powerful documentaries I've seen this year. It does not remain neutral in its message but it's thought provoking nonetheless. With a strong factual basis presented in a progressively, systematic format, it may be an eye opener for you like it was for me.
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