The Netflix documentary 13th examines the path from the end of slavery to the modern struggle with police brutality.
Released in 2016, director Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th begins with the introduction of the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution. From there, the film shows how the United States has failed to ever truly destroy the racism and oppression of slavery that still reigns within our government and criminal justice system. The film explores how the prison system became the new slavery system, as the 13th amendment allows for slavery when a person is convicted of a crime. While we don’t broadcast that prisons are in fact slavery, they are exactly that.
The prison and criminal justice systems in the United States have constantly worked against the minorities within the country. They are built to directly oppress black men and women and keep them from truly being free. The system preys on those who have less, those who can not post bail or are unable to fully defend themselves, and profits off of their incarceration through financial and political means, with prisons becoming for profit institutions, and formerly incarcerated civilians being stripped of most rights within the United States.
13th is eye opening and heartbreaking. It’s a film that explains in great and painful detail the truth behind our system of government. It shows us that the reality of our country is that it has consistently been built upon the backs of our black brothers and sisters. We have also consistently changed the way we make the means of oppression look–via slavery, Jim Crowe laws, segregation, mass incarceration, or police brutality. Yet it has always been prevalent in our society, and it likely will always be there.
At one point in the documentary, CNN correspondent Van Jones explains that there will be another form of oppression that continues this tradition, though it is not clear what that will be yet; and he is completely right. The United States of America has never been great for anyone who isn’t white. It has been a place where white men and women have been able to reap the rewards of their privilege and power and build structures and systems that constantly tear down black people without any form of remorse.
We treat the black men and women of this country in ways that as white people, we believe could never happen in the US. We have this false sense of security that says, “If you do well, work hard, and try to stay out of trouble, you can live a wonderful life,” but that is not true for anyone who isn’t white. And this problem has only gotten worse as time has gone on. Right now, in fact, we are at a point where the soul of our country is being battled for on the streets of major cities. It’s a battle that has raged on for months, with no clear end in sight.
13th is a powerful reminder of how long this battle has truly been going on. It’s also a reminder of how much work needs to be done to make things right. While it’s unclear how to best fix things in this country, it is clear that something needs to be done to try to truly amend the harm we’ve already let slide. We need to fundamentally change how we do things in this country. The only question is, where do we begin?
13th is currently streaming on Netflix
Written by Alex Lancaster
(Alex is a life long film fan, and has dedicated his life to watching, making and obsessing over films. His favorite film is Big Fish, and he despises Avatar. He has a 6 year old son. And a bad habit of saying more than he needs to. Follow @alex5348 on Twitter)