13th is a documentary about the 13th amendment of the United States Constitution and the effects that it’s had on black America. Essentially designed to abolish slavery, Ava DuVernay’s film scrapes away the political sentiment around the 13th amendment to reveal a horrifically, sordid truth gnawing away at the future of the United States.
If you're a man, woman (or child) you need to see 13th, especially if you're somehow ever meant to escape the trap that is America.
By returning us to 1865 and movie marching forward through time, her documentary does that thing that all the best documentaries do – it takes a huge lie and break down into a simple truth – and the key, in this case, is language.
From 1917’s Birth Of A Nation characterisation of all blacks being feral, rapists that needed to be executed, the inference has always been that white America should be fearful of the slaves it has freed. For a nation that knowingly displaced an indigenous Indian population and economically grown on the back of enforced black slavery, it’s unsurprising that most white Americans refuse to give up their guns.
With a fear of “criminality” perpetuated by all the presidencies since and ironically made worse by Bill Clinton’s “three strikes and you’re out” legislature where you can be locked up forever, American prisons are now swollen with black convicts. Add to this the fact that prisons are now privately run businesses, which sell out their convicts as unpaid workers and America has neatly returned itself a slave-driven economy.
13th is that once-in-a-lifetime documentary that peels back not just the current injustices being committed and reveals the next ones coming up ahead. From the increasing militarisation of the police and the fear-inducing plea bargain system where if you don’t agree to a lesser jail sentence without a trial you risk being locked up forever, the cycle of further police atrocities, reprisals and mass incarcerations that we’ve just already witnessed, seems set to continue.
Instead of being a slave of an owner, it is now highly likely that each black male will become a slave of the state. If they are ever labelled as “criminal”, they will lose their right to vote, get a job, find accommodation or even health care – and this is how the game is now rigged.
In breaking the code used by all the American Presidents Nixon, Johnson and all the way through to the Trump era, 13th is the documentary that breaks the code that has made America complicit in the reintroduction of modern-day slavery.
If you’re a man, woman (or child) you need to see 13th, especially if you’re somehow ever meant to escape the trap that is America.0