Documentary Recommendation: 13th – A MUST See…

Documentary Recommendation: 13th - A MUST See...

Documentary Recommendation: 13th – A MUST See…

13th opens with the now familiar voice of President Barak Obama stating this startling statistic: “The United States has 5% of the {world’s} population, yet houses 25% of the world’s prisoners” My first thought was, “So much for the ‘land of the free’.”

The documentary 13th, referring to the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, is an informative, impacting and sobering film. 13th traces the fate of African Americans, especially men, from slavery through segregation and the civil rights era, to the so-called “law & order” era beginning with Nixon and now apparently being resurrected by the current U.S. President Elect.

Here is the text of Section One of the 13th amendment, added to the constitution in 1865, “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, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The “loophole” of sorts has existed in that amendment from the beginning and has resulted in all kinds of persecution, death, misery and injustice. I wonder if that will ever be amended. This is the wording that the documentary points to: “… except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”. In other words, if someone can be labeled or convicted as a criminal, it is “legal” to impart all kinds of injustice, up to slavery and involuntary servitude, on said person.  That’s the logic in the minds of the powerful, dominant and bigoted throughout the years, as 13th points out.

A recurring graphic in the documentary highlights the amount of prisoners in the U.S. beginning from 1972 with the #357,292 and then spiking in recent years (corresponding with the privatization of the prison industry) to 2014’s staggering figure of #2,306,200. That’s just over 40 years. Another startling fact presented near the end of the film is the likelihood of lifetime imprisonment. Seriously, we even have to have a “likelihood” of that in America? But it’s actually worse than even that. For a white man, the likelihood is that 1 in 17 will end up spending a lifetime in prison. For a black man, the likelihood is 1 in 3. For this editor, that seems outrageous.

Since this documentary was produced by filmmaker Ava DuVernay (who also produced last year’s Academy Award nominated Selma), she is definitely two-for-two home runs with these films. Late last year, 13th won multiple Critics Choice awards, and Ava DuVernay also won for Best Director for TV/Streaming for 13th as well. There is definitely an Oscar buzz again this year surrounding this female filmmaker and her work! According to, “DuVernay is the first black woman to be nominated for a best director Golden Globe. She’s also set to become the first black woman to direct a film with a budget of more than $100 million. She’s spoken out frequently about institutional racism and sexism, and in particular how Hollywood excludes people of color.” Quite an amazing artist and woman!

Speaking to National Public Radio on December 17, 2016, Ava offered this insight into the making of 13th“This documentary was built for two different kinds of audiences – folks out there that know about this and folks out there that have never heard of it. For folks out there that know about it, the feedback that I’ve got and what my intention was was to put it all in one place because when you see everything lined up, some of the things that we know from various books and documentaries of great thinkers out there, when everything is lined up back to back, it paints a different picture. There’s something that’s illuminated when you put it all together as a whole. So that was one way that I constructed the documentary. The other way that my editors Spencer Averick and I went about it was to the person that has heard nothing about this, that thinks that prison is a place where bad people go and that’s that, to give them just a primer to think more deeply about, become more educated about, just have a broader base of knowledge about the criminal justice system as it stands right now and as it has stood for many decades.”

This film is highly recommended and a must-view for every adult in the U.S. It is well-researched, well-edited, factually and academically sober and morally straightforward.

First Published:  Jan 14, 2017 @ 06:04