Directed by Ava DuVernay
Released October 7, 2016
Ava DuVernay is an acclaimed director who has received rave reviews for most of the stories she has brought to the life on the big (and small) screen. After winning awards at the Sundance Film Festival for “Middle of Nowhere” in 2012, she made “Selma” in 2014, focused on Martin Luther King, Jr. and his role in the march from Selma to Montgomery. The failure of the Oscars to recognize both her and a number of actors and technical elements of the film was one of the main reasons that the organization has recently been criticized for its lack of diversity, and in her follow-up film, DuVernay returns to documentary with no intention of stifling her voice, bringing another important story to light.
“13th” is an exploration of the thirteenth amendment to the constitution, which in 1865 abolished slavery. The film charts the immediate aftermath of its passage and everything that has happened since to argue that slavery is very much alive in today’s society, since the United States set up a system that has led to the mass incarceration of African-Americans. The damning statistic that the United States accounts for less than five percent of the world population but for a quarter of the world’s prisoners speaks for itself, and DuVernay defends the position that there is an inherent racism in America that has only been perpetuated by the efforts of politicians – both Republicans and Democrats – to crack down on crime, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which there is no hope for anyone to succeed given expectations and circumstances.
“13th” is a film that knows what it’s doing, presenting case after case to support its arguments and doing so in a way that conveys careful thought and extensive research. It’s a film that proves upsetting and infuriating to watch at times, particularly when it invokes recent publicized tragedies that went unpunished and unaddressed or when it features those currently in power who, even before their election, made the final cut for their incendiary acts. Some might watch and not agree with everything asserted in the film, but there is more than enough evidence here to clearly show that there is a problem with the way that the United States prison system works and the way in which it adversely affects African-Americans. Especially in light of recent political events, this film feels vital, and its excellent execution will undoubtedly help to those who see it to take action.
Monday, February 6, 2017