Ava DuVerney’s 13TH, didn’t receive more than eight film awards for no reason; every award and nomination was earned through the oustanding content of the documentary. On the same Saturday of the ImageNation Outdoor Film Festival Soul Train Tribute, I was given the opportunity to watch 13TH, with the large residence of Harlem, in Marcus Garvey Park.
13TH takes viewers through the history of the United States’ prison system, and more specifically the criminalization of Black people in America from the beginning of slavery to the present. Features that make this documentary so well put together include, the comparison of the statistics of African Americans in prison to different time periods, interviews with social activist/author(s) (Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander, Van Jones, Henry Louis Gates, etc.), victims of criminalization, evidence of corrupt politicians clips/recordings of government officials. In addition, 13TH also highlights the politicians who have played significant role in increasing the prison population. Furthermore, DuVernay illustrates how the presence of police brutality has contributed to criminalization within the Black community.
Although, 13TH was composed of a substantial amount of scenes, I however, was able to pick a couple that were significant to me. One scene in particular was the close context on the organization ALEC and its influence on the United States’ legislation. According to the documentary, ALEC has been responsible for most of the laws that are responsible for mass incarceration, and particularly the criminalization of Black people in America. The most shocking fact unveiled about ALEC, was it’s affiliation with a majority of companies and corporations (Chesapeake Energy, Coca Cola, Geico, etc.). Another segment of the documentary that caught my attention, was the scene on the Clintons. In the film, DuVernay highlights the roles both Hillary and Bill Clinton played in the epidemic that is mass incarceration. One clip shows Hillary Clinton referring to groups of mostly Black and Latino youth as “Super Predators”, and even describing them as people with, “No conscience… No empathy”. In addition, there is another clip that recalls Bill Clinton’s “Three Strike” system that was responsible for placing tons of Black and Latino males in the prison system often for periods of time that weren’t equivalent to the crimes committed. In fact, 13TH also features a clip of Bill Clinton apologizing for his Crime Bill and later on defending it. This portion of the documentary lead me to realize, the Clinton's claim to assist the Black community, when they have really been destroying it by not only portraying a members of our community as criminals, but feeding them to the institutionalization.
In conclusion, DuVernay’s 13TH isn’t only a documentary, but necessary education for the Black community. The ImageNation crowd and I, were impressed by how much knowledge was displayed to us in a matter one hour and forty minutes. I would recommend the film to people of all races and ages because it's not only about Black people in prison, but another part of America’s history. If unfortunately you missed the screening, you can still catch 13TH on Netflix.