Ava Duvernay’s 13th is a fantastic movie whose major goal is to show how mass incarceration is a continuation of slavery. The movie itself is a documentary that challenges the audience’s assumptions about the junction of three factors—race, mass incarceration, and race in the United States. The movie begins by stating that “25% of those who are imprisoned worldwide are in the United States.” In actuality, the United States is home to 5% of the world’s prison population despite having about 5% of the global population (Duverbay, 1). In her film, she manifests that slavery continues to be perpetuated in practice even after the end of the American Civil War, via the actions of criminalizing behavior as well as making it possible for police to arrest freedmen, forcing them to slave for the nation und convict leasing. Ava also examines the prison-industrial complex as well as the detention-industrial complex as she demonstrates the amount of money made by numerous businesses from such incarceration.
Basically, slavery ended about 50 years ago but in her film Ava Duvernay wants the viewer to have another look at the amendment that was used to abolish it. Her film is a potent look at how the current-day prison labor system is related to slavery. Her film explains the root cause of mass incarceration epidemic in United States; according to her, money is one of the root cause of cheap prison labor that is knotted up in the US economy in some twisted ways, and this system is designed in a way that gets the black people into jails in their early life and as often as possible. In addition, the film manifests how inertia and the inability to fight back makes many black people to enter prison and as a result helps the wealthy to benefit from free black labor not under slavery but through prisons. Duvernay tries to mix News footage, stats-laden graphics and recurring visual highlight of the word criminal, and more especially as it is used by people to make suppositions about black men. For instance, she includes one of the most effective sequences about Donald Trump who in most of his campaign speeches are full of clips from the civil right era. In one of his rallies, his remarks were about the good old days which were set against classic images from Little Rock and violence towards minority protesters by acolytes (Duvernay, 1). This is one scene that makes the film one of the most effective horror movies,
13th Amendment was ratified in 1865, but those who drafted it were able to leave a loophole by missing a clause in its definition. This clause is the one that converts slavery form a legal business model to an equally legal method of punishment for criminals. It is this clause that Ava DuVernay looks at by taking unwavering, knowledgeable and methodically researched look at the American system of incarceration. To be precise, she tries to analyze and study how the prison industrial complex does indeed affect the people of color. Her analysis is very appropriate and irritating; she builds her film piece by piece as she inspires and stuns the viewer, thus leaving the viewers shaken and disturbed. Nevertheless, the film leaves the viewer with a note of hope since it advocates for change.
The film contains alarming statistics that, 1 out of 4 African-American males will serve prison time at one point of their lives. This shows how United-States is divided along racial lines, and justice continues to be interfered with. DuVernay interviews liberal scholars and activists such as Henry Louis Gates, Van Jones and Angela Davis. She also makes time to interview conservatives such as Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich, and this shows us that her film is based on facts and not politics. All these interviews are shot in a location that bring to mind an industrial setting, and thus supporting the theme of prison as a factory churning out the free labor that the 13th Amendment was supposed to dismantle by abolishing slavery.
The film covers a lot of ground as it works its way to the modern days of Black lives matters, and numerous though provoking videos of uncountable African-American who are shot by police. The film is very unbiased since DuVernay does not let the political parties control her documentary, and she does not ignore the fact that many people of color bought into the law and order philosophies were the ones that brought about the modern day situation. For example, she also focuses on Hillary Clinton who talks about super predators as well as Donald Trump as he advocated for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, whom we learn that they were all innocent. The film also shows Charlie Rangel an African-American congressman who engaged in a tough war on crime laws that were signed into law by President Clinton.
The film contains the death of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Philando Castile as well as other African-American who were shot dead by law enforcement. This is a clear indication of how people continue to see things as usual business, and not how these events take place. Towards the end of the film we are faced with onscreen discussion about the destruction of black bodies, whereby DuVernay makes available for the viewer using an onscreen disclaimer that it is shown with permission by the families of the victims out of respect. Therefore, the film tries to ask a very essential question of whether African-American are actually ever truly free in United States. Well, it is true that DuVenay manifests that Black-American current generation are freer that their ancestors who experienced slavery but they are not free as their white compatriots. DuVernay manifests this fact in her film and helps the viewer to wonder if a day will indeed come when everything will be equal. She tries to help the viewer yearn for a change that will not come from politicians but from the hearts and minds of the American people.
I think that this is a very well-directed film, and has a tough subject matter that needs to be addressed. Duvernay gives us a very happy ending in the film as she ends with joyful scenes of children and adults of colors as they enjoy in different activities. This reminds the viewer of her interview with NYFF director Kent Jones, where she said that Black trauma is not our entire lives since there is also black joy. This is a very hopeful message and Duvernay has also important education information thus making her film a great one that is recommendable for every person who loves human life.
Dunvey, Ava. 13TH. Sherman Oaks, CA: Kamdoo Films. 2016.