13th (2016)

A couple of years after the brilliant Selma, director Ava DuVernay directed another socially and politically relevant film related to black history, 13th, a documentary that explores the prison system in the United States, a topic I was not familiar with and therefore was really looking forward to learning about. 

The film begins with an audio recording of former President Barack Obama stating that the US has 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prisoners, which was kind of a shock to me, but it was nothing compared to what was yet to come. 

The documentary then moves onto the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution which read "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" and focuses on the loophole (the highlighted part) that allowed the country's own constitution to basically legalize slavery. 

13th, in fact, shows how slavery has been perpetuated even after the end of the Civil War. The South needed to rebuild their economy and since they had so many African American who could do that, they used the loophole to incarcerate as many black people as possible for such minor crimes white people would pretty much get slapped on the wrist for, like loitering and vagrancy, so that they could use them as a cheap or even free workforce. This was the beginning of this kind of myth, as called in the documentary, about black people being evil and dangerous, especially for white women, which later allowed the number of prisoners to increase dramatically every decade. 

DuVernay also explores the fact that a majority of prisoners in the United States are African American, many of which have been convicted for one crime that at times it's even that serious. She also makes pretty clear that it was Nixon's war on drugs and Reagan's administration the most responsible for the increase of African American in the prison system. And she isn't wrong as quotations from Nixon's henchmen confirm that black people were actually targeted during this period and intentionally put behind bars. She also criticises Clinton's three-strikes law which significantly increased the number of life sentences.

So far so good. But there are some things she forgets to mention and explore, such as the increase in availability in firearms and the development of gangs, not to mention the glamorization of crime. Also, she blames whites for a few things they should not be blamed for. Whether it's drugs or guns, you can't blame another race for mistreating your race both in the past and the present as I believe is the way people were raised by their parents that truly matter. What if those parents were in prison paying for a crime? If you ask me, they should have thought about their families before committing the crime, whether it's a serious crime such as murder or something as "silly" as drugs possession. 

That being said, there's one thing I want a documentary to do, to inform me about a topic I'm not familiar with, and, though it's biased, Ava DuVernay's 13th did that very well.


  1. This sounds very interesting and I would love to see this documentary. Documentaries will always have a slant and if it becomes too biased, we turn it off. This sounds like it is more in control for the most part.

    1. It is. I'm sure you won't turn off this one.

  2. I saw this film a couple of years ago just before the horror that was 11/9/16. I don't think a lot of people saw it but I was fortunate to download it and man, it pissed me off.