Lately I feel I have seen a lot of social rights documentaries, including the blight of the black man or woman in America. It has definitely grown in recent years, from learning of prison/arrest rates, to news reports, to the war on drugs, to civil rights, to modern slavery. Heck, I just did O.J.: Made In America.
So initially I didn’t want to see 13th. I figured it would just be more of the same of other recent documentaries, or a more detailed Last Week Tonight With John Oliver segment. But the reason I finally picked it up is because it was nominated for a Spirit award for Best Documentary and likely also for the Oscars.
Thankfully it is one of the many Netflix documentaries, and while watching it I felt like I was hit over the head, in a good way. It is only around 100 minutes long, but I could not look away. I wanted to play phone games or write while I watched, but it was impossible. And once I found out it was directed by Ava DuVernay it all made sense.
And this isn’t even the most powerful imagery the film has.
DuVernay recently directed Selma and a few other smaller things, but 13th elevates her to a whole knew level. I have never seen such a modern, information packed documentary like this one. It is so dense and factual, with archival footage, expert testimony, law wording, and more. It is basically impossible to argue against it (if you felt like arguing). It started with the 13th amendment getting into a law, jim crow laws, the modern civil rights era and how that led to the war on drugs and the sudden increases in mass incarceration of black men.
Not only that, but it seemed to do it all in the first thirty minutes.
It became modern quickly, including why Bill Clinton signed the bill that increased prison rates even further, the entire political climate of the time, up to the Black Lives Matter movement (that totally started this year). Fuck, it is relevant and informative.
13th is just a documentary that everyone in their life should see. They should go in with an open mind, free of distractions, and be ready to change some of their perceptions of the American dream and reality. On that note, I didn’t think that DuVernay should have been nominated for Best Director for Selma. But I sort of feel it is warranted for this documentary. 13th is so good, I can’t even spend more time talking about it. Just go see it, please.