The 13th Amendment. What do we really know about it other than it was part of the constitution that kicked slavery to the curb. It declared that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
Leave it to director Ava Duvernay to break it all the way down to make a case out of the fact that slavery hasn’t really been abolished. In fact, it’s actually evolved into our current system of mass incarceration. A system, in which many prisons are run by major corporations (Walmart and Victoria’s Secret) for profit. Prisoners are paid a pittance for their labor. Twelve cents an hours to be exact.
In a year that has seen a black life murdered or jailed at a rapid rate, a movement incited by people of all races speaking out on the injustices called #BlackLivesMatter and year in film that began with the hashtag #oscarssowhite, 13th brings to the forefront a much need conversation about mass incarceration of people of color.
From Jim Crow laws to Nixon’s “war on drugs” to Bill Clinton’s “three strikes” legislation, mass incarceration is a real issue and one that sorely needs investigating and discussing. In 1970, there were 200,000 prisoners and today the numbers are staggering toward more than 2 million. Did you know that while the America has more than just 5% of the world’s population, we have more than 25% of the world’s population in prisoners? It is a proven fact that one in three prisoners are black men and more than 60% of the people in the prison system are people of color.
Interviewing scholars and activists ranging from Angela Davis to rapper/Oscar winner Common, the film trots out images of lynchings, cellphone videos of police abuse and footage from the 1815 D.W. Griffith film “The Birth of a Nation”. That film alone glorified the Klu Klux Klan and was screened with pride at the White House for then President Woodrow Wilson. I know …right??!!
13th couldn’t be more timely in an election year where we have candidates speaking of building walls, politicians pushing for criminal justice reform and reducing the prison population – particularly of non-violent offenders. As if Hillary Clinton doesn’t have enough on her plate with those damn emails, the film openly criticizes Bill and Hillary for supporting the 1990’s crime bill that has led to a massive increase of the prison population today. A bill in which those both now realize was a fatally flawed mistake for our country.
A pivotal, yet chilling moment for me was some footage of a recent Trump rally – where angry white people with black protestors are shown against archival clips of civil rights protestors. All the while listening to Donald Trump say, “In the good old days…they would be carried out on stretchers.”
I’m not gonna lie. Watching these types of projects makes me feel some kind of way. Mostly angry, hurt and left with a massive desire to make difference. Obviously, there is strength in numbers. Each one teach and tell one. So, today I have taught you more than you probably wanted to know about the 13th amendment through the lens of brilliant director Ava Duvernay. The rest is literally up to you to keep the conversation going until a change is made.
13th can be streamed NOW via Netflix.