Ava DuVernay’s “13th” (2016) and Reel Black History

Ava DuVernay’s 13th (2016) is an excellent Netflix’s documentary. It explores the long history of the many disastrous consequences for Black people that have resulted from the loophole in the 13th Amendment and examines the desire by many White people to perpetually exploit Whiteness and White privilege. 

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, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

What follow are some of the most important and interesting points in DuVernay’s 13th – hopefully these inspire you to watch the film! 

Ironically, while the 13th Amendment outlawed enslavement, it made it more legal than ever before. This amendment changed Black people from being “slaves” to being “convicts” and then “felons.” 

Immediately following “abolition,” convict leasing (or as I call it neo-enslavement or re-enslavement), segregation, and lynching were used by White people to control and kill Black people. As segregation was “abolished,” White politicians created “law and order” policies that were specifically designed to target and imprison Black people, mainly Black men. People who are in prison are legally slaves – many of these men, the vast majority People of Color, live worse than cats and dogs.

Court room and legal dramas on televisions are designed to indoctrinate White people into fully believing that “criminals” are dangerous and are treated fairly. The shows do not show that most people are denied the right to a trial, if they get a trial they are punished more than if they took a plea bargain, and thousands are deliberately charged with crimes they did not and could not have committed – they are accused as a way to control them and to make money.

Once accused, it is never over. There are over 40,000 consequences for people accused of a crime. At least 1 out of every 3 Black men will be incarcerated in their lifetime. 

Currently, we are hearing calls for prison reform and 13th warns that we need to be prepared for the next major political system that will be used to keep Black people and other people of Color in chains.

DuVernay’s 13th argues again and again that in order to understand United States History, racism must be a central focus. It explains how that laws in the United States do not have safety and equality in mind, but rather, laws are designed to extend profits for the super rich and perpetuate racism and inequality for non-Whites.

DuVernay’s commentators (who include Michelle Alexander and a dozen others) discuss D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation and its role in reflecting and shaping popular discourses, Emmett Till and his mother, Angela Davis, and many others, including Trayvon Martin. It has thought-provoking music by Nina Simone and more contemporary artists interwoven between the various sections, as well as countless visuals, of course. 

This film is ideal for those who care about social justice, who want to hear the Black family, and who do not have a solid background in these topics. I highly recommend it. This film falls within my areas of speciality, and I have zero criticisms for how it presents the past. Its information is solidly accurate. It combines over a century of history into a solid, compact, compelling account and gives voice to Black men and Black women.

Let me know what you think about DuVernay’s 13th! 🙂 

Andrew Joseph Pegoda