13th (2016) – Documentary Film Review


Last updated on June 15th, 2017 at 08:47 am

The documentary film 13th, directed by Ava DuVernay, starts with a piece of US President Barack Obama’s speech: “The United States is home to 5% of world’s population but 25% of the world’s prisoners. Think about that.”

13th focuses on the very fact and issues in relation to that, while the title of the film is derived from the Thirteenth Amendment of the US Constitution that reads as: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crimewhereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

In that sense, the 13th amendment somehow sets it clear that everyone other than criminals to be treated as free citizen of the United States. But once the slavery is abolished, the very 13th amendment loophole was immediately exploited – after the Civil War, African Americans were arrested en masse.

This started nation’s first prison boom. This was nothing but slavery again. Most of the people were arrested for extremely minor crimes and put into jail, and they were used as labour to rebuild the economy of the South after the Civil War. Their rights as free citizen don’t fall under the constitution as they’re now criminalized.

This Netflix original documentary, released in October 2016, has so far garnered rave reviews from audience and critics for exploring the fact that there is still racial discrimination in the States, citing that most of the nation’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans.

13th is indeed a sad story that Americans are today living with – the history that is so tragic to put you into shame. Director Ava DuVernay chose facts with a fast-paced narratives (with interviews of liberal scholars and activists) that shows the horror of mass criminalization – the murder of black people by white mob and some disturbing visuals, that will for sure leave you shaken. The film goes on to explain this open terrorism that continues in America for long with laws that relegated African Americans to a permanent second-class status.

13th is full of facts, hard-hitting truth, may be depressing and disturbing for some, but recommended for everyone in America and outside. Everyone must remember the history and struggle of a particular section of people who were denied their rights for their race and colour. And to the present day horror, the film proves the point that the centuries old US exploitation of African Americans is still going on with mass incarceration and a general sense of polarized attitude. 

13TH | Netflix | Official Trailer



This post has been written, edited and published by the Cinecelluloid editorial team.

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