Two years ago, Ava DuVernay made "Selma." It was one of those biopic films that redefined what could be done with the genre. It was never just a greatest hits of Martin Luther King Jr's life. Instead, it focused on a specific moment in Martin Luther King's life, and it exploited that moment with nurturing care and brutal realism. Obviously, DuVernay is constantly thinking of African-American issues in our country. Because going from "Selma" to "13th" wouldn't have made sense otherwise. It seems like "Selma" was almost a warm-up to what would be "13th," a documentary on Netflix dealing with the slavery in America. But just like "Selma" wasn't just some biopic of an important man, "13th" isn't just a look at slavery.
Did you think slavery died after the Civil War? "13th" said no, it did not die after the Civil War. After the 13th Amendment was passed in our country, it abolished slavery and indentured servitude. BUT, there is a loophole that allows the act of slavery to still thrive. Has anyone actually taken a good look at the actual amendment itself? If you really read it, it says that the act of slavery is abolished, unless the person in question is a criminal. Essentially. This created an opportunity for racists to gain control over African-Americans in this country once again. Slavery never died in America, it only evolved and took different forms over the years, from segregation to secret murders. Today? Simply take a look at our prison system.
Let's really think about this for a moment. Would it really be that hard to believe that The Justice System in our country is used to keep African-Americans as unpaid help? Think about it. Ever since the Nixon era, throughout the Reagan and even the Bill Clinton administration, there has been some kind of war on crime. We learn that budgets slowly increased between each administration in order to push money towards this crusade. As this "war" pushed forward, the number of incarcerated African-American men began to increase and increase and increase until today with over two million men in our jail system. We learn just how stacked the deck of cards is against them. Corporations write laws and are lobbied at a government level, media works against their favor, there is a complete lack of effort in actually rehabilitating these men, they just go to prison and serve their sentence. Because its hard for felons to get jobs, they bounce right back jail. Most of these men didn't kill anyone. They didn't commit treason, they didn't sell drugs in lots of situations, they didn't sell child pornography. Many African-American men are put in jail for petty crimes and the system is designed to make sure they never get out.
There needs to be a massive prison reform overhaul in this country. Where fair punishments are dealt on people in question, no matter the color of their skin. Corporations and lobbyist need to get out of the prison business. Prisons should work toward helping these men get back on their feet and rehabilitate them. Not creating a sensory depriving environment that will only hurt them in the long run. Many countries in Europe where inmates are given whole households and their inmate return rates are so small compared to our country. So what are we doing wrong? We don't help our inmates change, we make sure they come back. Our country is so lost in this system that we may never be able to change it, and that's the scariest moment in the entire film.
Whether you find all of this untrue or not, I don't get how you can't be persuaded by DeVernay's magnificent documentary. There is so much detail and so much information given in an insightful, unnerving way that its hard not to open your eyes to it. We have not put our past behind us, the ugliest parts of our history have been laid bare. "13th" is a wake-up call, a notion to call up arms. This is a real problem in this country, and people are loosing their lives in this country because of it. This movie is downright frightening with the picture it creates and its almost unbelievable how long this has been going on.
I don't know if the race problems in this country will ever completely go away, but if everybody sees "13th" and some genuine change can come out of it, it would be the ultimate step in the right direction.
FINAL GRADE: A