Friday Film Review - '13th'

Jun 19, 2020

The documentary “13th” was released in 2016. If you missed it then - watch it now. As the national and international conversation about racial injustice elevates, every single one of us could benefit from the enlightenment delivered by this documentary. Here's Barb Bretz with your Friday Film Review.

13th was written by Ava DuVernay and Spencer Averick. The title refers to the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Section 1 of the amendment reads, “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."

The Thirteenth Amendment was adopted in 1865 to abolish slavery (with that oh-so-significant qualifier) 'except as a punishment for conviction of a crime...'  What's wrong with that you ask? Well, for example, what if no one will hire you and it's a crime to be unemployed? What if it’s a crime to smile at a white woman? What if it’s a crime to walk into a store or a school or sit down in the front of the bus? Bingo! Welcome back to the new free slave labor force.

DuVerney explores the history of racial inequality and the criminal justice system, focusing on our nation's prisons which are disproportionately filled with African Americans. She makes an effective case that the racial injustice from the beginning and mass incarceration occurring now in the United States is and always has been an extension of slavery.

I was blown away by the stats and graphs illustrating the astronomical increase of incarcerated Americans, the majority being black and brown. The USA has 6 to 8 times the incarceration rate of comparable industrialized countries. 6 to 8 times! That's significant.

I was disheartened by politicians through the decades, both Democrat and Republican, who in order to be electable, feel forced to talk and act tough on crime rather than enact humane reforms.

I was disgusted to learn how a much-admired strategy like Reagan's War on Drugs sounds good on the surface but when examined under the spotlight reeks of legislated racism.

The information is delivered with vintage film footage, statistics, graphs and powerful interviews. I could have listened to Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow for an hour. (Instead I opted to download the audio version of her book first released a decade ago so I could listen to her for 17 hours.) Even Newt Gingrich gave a pretty effective explanation of white privilege.

I agree with film critic David Edelstein who said the movie is filled with so much information and brilliant interviewees it's difficult to do it justice in a review. It simply must be seen.

13th runs 1 hour and 40 powerful minutes and is streamable on Netflix. This is Barb Bretz with your Friday Film Review. See you at the movies!