Ava DuVernay’s 13th

Selma director Ava DuVernay has done another fantastic job of being socially aware of injustice in her new work, 13th.

13th is a Netflix documentary that touches on the criminalization of communities of colour within the United States of America — despite its American backdrop, it still has great relevance during the UK’s Black History Month. It revolves around the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865. Though this was such a historical time for America, DuVernay is examining the amendment and its loopholes.

She proposes the idea that we are in modern-day slavery, corroborating her statement with demographics on the imprisonment of coloured people when they haven’t even committed a serious crime. This trend traces back to a time right after the Civil War when the 13th amendment passed. At that time, there was a huge prison boom for coloured people for minor crimes, such as loitering. DuVernay mentions how this was a tactic used to keep black people under control though it seemed as if they were granted their freedom.

Today, we are faced with many racial injustices, but we have seen the beauty of a united world as, for example, people worldwide protested ongoing police brutality in America. This summer, the activist group, Black Lives Matter, dominated the streets of London to stand with Americans and the crimes revolving around police brutality and racial inequality. DuVernay’s documentary plays an essential part in what’s going on because she shines light on the racial injustices that are being swept under the rug.

DuVernay brought in experts to talk about the history of black rights and how they have essentially been revoked under a system that is supposed to keep people safe. This powerful piece will trigger emotions as many lives affected by this injustice have been put on screen.

One example is the life of Kalief Browder, who was arrested on false charges of robbery and chose not to plead guilty because he felt there was justice that needed to be served. Browder was sentenced to three years in prison without bail. He was abused by inmates and guards and tried to commit suicide while in prison. After he was found not guilty, Browder was released but spent time in and out of psych wards because he believed the police were still after him. Two years after his release, Browder committed suicide and it is believed to be because of his wrongful conviction and so many nights spent in solitary confinement.

Many other famous cases are acknowledged in 13th, including Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old boy shot by a neighbourhood watch volunteer because he “looked suspicious.” Because this took place in Florida, Martin’s killer was found not guilty because of the Stand Your Ground Law, which allows property owners to defend themselves if they feel threatened.  

These discriminations have been analysed just in time for the November presidential elections in the U.S. DeVernay mentions how these injustices happen because of acts passed by the American government. She also presents footage of a black male was being patronized by white men during the struggle for Civil Rights and mirrors that with footage of the same thing occurring at a Trump rally.

Her documentary was not only eye-opening, but a history in itself of such a big part of African-American history and politics. It’s definitely worth the watch.

— Ashley Vega

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