Documentaries are instrumental tools for educating or informing society on issues that are either never considered by many or just swept under the rug by most. The recent, critically-acclaimed documentary on Netflix,“13th” by director Ava DuVernay is a perfect example of how vital documentaries are—and it comes at such a pivotal time for the US.
As a nation, we are in strange times. Our media is dominated by a reality-TV-show-esque presidential election and, prior to that, the airwaves were led by the ongoing narrative of racial tensions caused by the deaths of unarmed black men by the hands of police. Between the political and race issues it seems we, as a people, are more polarized than ever. I can barely tolerate some of the close-minded, one-sided “debates” that go down on social media over these issues—it’s quite sad.
The key to healthy debate is to be informed—and that’s just what 13th is looking to do. The documentary holds answers for those who can’t seem to understand why “Black Lives Matter” is being stressed rather than “All Lives Matter”, or why “black-on-black crime” isn’t an excuse for the police to kill unarmed black men. Lets face it: the systemic racism that has been ingrained in the US since the days of slavery is very explicit right now. It’s time to really wake up.
Our history teaches us that the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in 1865. What isn’t usually brought to light—and what is the premise of 13th—however, is that within the Thirteenth Amendment there is a clause that reads, “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”, which has been exploited as a “loophole” since it’s ratification to bring about another caste system via incarceration.
From the Jim Crow days of segregation, to—as Michelle Alexander, author and educator puts it—The New Jim Crow era of mass-incarceration, 13th explores the timeline of policies that led us to the state we are in now—with the highest rate of incarceration in the world—and is something everyone should take the time to watch. As a proponent of a more egalitarian society, I have done my research outside of this documentary to know that it is truthful, and recommend it to anyone that is open-minded and willing to show some empathy for our brothers and sisters lost in the inhumane prison-industrial complex.