By Nia Todd
Published: October 26th, 2016
It will, because the truth always hurts.
The Ava Duverney-directed documentary “13th” was released on Netflix on October 7. The film centers on the 13th Amendment loophole that still allows slavery, but under one condition: “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”
By using historical context as the framework, Duverney explores how mass incarceration began and how it continues to thrive today.
Statistics flash throughout the hour-and-a-half film, which reveal facts such as the rise of incarceration numbers in the United States, from some 513,000 people in 1970 to 2.3 million today, and that one in three black men will go to prison sometime in his life.
All of the information given is not new, but it is thoroughly explained by an expansive team that consists of professors, authors, and activists. Familiar faces like Angela Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr. go in depth about topics such as the aftermath of Reconstruction in the U.S., prison as a booming industry, the “fear of black bodies,” and even famous court cases like the Central Park Five. They break down how campaigns like the infamous “War on Drugs” were designed to specifically target minorities.
One of the most shocking revelations of “13th” is the exposal of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), who are credited and uncredited authors of an astonishing number of legislative initiatives that society will have to deal with for years to come. ALEC was behind the creation of Florida’s “stand your ground” law that helped acquit George Zimmerman after shooting and killing Trayvon Martin in 2012. Big companies like Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Coca-Cola and more have been aligned with ALEC. The same companies that most Americans spend billions of dollars on year after year are supporters of private prison intuitions and unethical sentencing laws. These unknowing consumers are essentially helping these companies make a profit of their loved ones being behind bars.
Racial bias is not a new concept, especially with everything going on surrounding the #BlackLivesMatter movement and police brutality. Even so, watching “13th” will force viewers to face frustrations of some sort. Whether it’s coming to terms with how deep-rooted systematic racism is, or with how the “fear of black bodies” is the underlying reason for countless murders, seeing how black and brown men and women can be tossed into prison to work for literal pennies is alarming at the least.
Yes, they are technically criminals, but does that mean they are no longer humans as well? “13th” is a story that forces the viewers to pay attention and, more importantly, encourages them to use their voices to make a change. The anger that was built up over the hundred minutes of the film should be used as energy to research the legal system, get involved in political lobbying, or even to simply be more mindful of immanent prejudices. So, yeah, it’ll make people mad, but will it make people act? Time will only tell.