Ava DuVernay’s 13th film was a very compelling documentary, but it was also hard to watch. The feeling was odd because I knew it wasn’t sympathy, since I hadn’t experienced even a fraction the amount of discrimination that some of those interviewed had endured, but I still felt incredibly sad. The full story spans years of research and legal proceedings, but the film is focused on explaining the 13th Amendment. This amendment states that slavery and involuntary labor are prohibited within the United States and any country under their jurisdiction.
DuVernay began by shocking me. She stated that 1 in 4 African American men would serve time in prison at some point. It was shocking to me because I watched it before learning the statistics. I was shocked to learn that these rates are so high. The extreme racial differences in the criminal justice system became more apparent to me after reading this. This was so unbelievable. After this I immediately started “googling”, which led me to learn that African American people are 5x as likely to be incarerated than whites. I believe that the only difference between white and black people is their bias. After this, President Obama gives another shocking statistic. While the United States is only 5% the world population, it cares for 25% of all prisoners. The US justice system is clearly flawed. As a country of high development, I believe that we cannot, should not, or could not house 25% of the prisoners around the globe within our borders.
The documentary consists of a series DuVernay’s interviews. Each interview provides different information regarding the 13th Amendment, and the problems surrounding it. Most of the people interviewed were former inmates. All the interviews took place in an industrial setting. They were never conducted outside or in a public space. DuVernay uses all the interviews to support her belief that slavery in the United States has never been abolished, despite the 13th Amendment’s “abolition” of it. She believes that those who are in power have acted in a biased manner and have unfairly punished people, which has perpetuated slavery even in modern America. The wording in the amendment was so strategic that I did a double-take just by reading it. It is still possible to have slavery if the white man who has power decides that a man must serve. I find this inherently wrong. We should abolish slavery completely if we have abolished it.
DuVernay used simple word images to create a film that really “popped” for me. The stats at the beginning were displayed by themselves, without any pictures, audio or video. Just the “1 out of 4” statistic. The film repeatedly cuts to black backgrounds with the word “CRIMINAL” on them. This was probably meant to illustrate how people of color can be easily defined without even looking at their individuality. She seems often to refer to the “scary Black criminal”. This is a similar topic to what I discussed when studying about the rise in hip-hop culture in America. White Americans are predisposed to fear African Americans. We’ve taken several true stories of crime and exaggerated or skewed the facts to make them seem like all African Americans are criminals. It was very effective to display these words in a harsh manner on screen.
In summary, I think the information and film that it contains follows a certain path. The timeline starts at the end with slavery, then segregation. I also studied this in hip hop class. She discusses the drug war and how it has led to a rise in incarceration rates.