Movie #194 2020: 13th (2016)

Black Lives Matter.

It’s the phrase on everyone’s lips, on everyone’s Twitter feed, in everyone’s protest. But how many of you are actively trying to educate yourself on the history of this matter?

Movies have the ability to bring everyone together. Documentaries have that same power, but also have the responsibility to lay out the truth and the real facts of a subject matter. For anyone who hasn’t started their journey of listening and learning, Ava DuVernay‘s 13th is a great starting point.

Shortly after releasing Selma – which smashed into the Oscars and earned itself a Best Picture nomination – DuVernay brought us this documentary after the rights to it were swept up by Netflix. Primarily focusing on the corruption of the United States’ prison system, we’re taken through a whistle stop tour of the events that led up to the creation and the strengthening of the prison-industrial complex, and how facts can contribute to proving that the entire system is based on racist views.

Though this film is very important whether there are nationwide protests or not, the very least you can do as a white person during the current uprising is watch this documentary. And it’s a good one, doing what a documentary should: inform. There are facts, figures, statistics, case studies, examples to back everything up… this documentary is thorough to the point where it could (and should) be shown as part of a school curriculum.

Although many – including myself – will already know a lot of the history contained within this, some won’t. (I’m looking at you, ‘All Lives M*tter’ folk.) Ava DuVernay lays everything out in an easily-digestible but by no means comfortable way that is admirable and effective. By the end of it, you’ll have no choice but to re-evaluate or re-affirm everything you thought you knew about race in America.

There are so many interesting facets to this movie that it would be impossible to cover them all here. One topic that particularly stands out though is how this film links America’s problem with mass incarceration to the greed and corruption of big corporations. It’s eye-opening and an important conversation to be having, suggesting that racism is at the forefront of this problem, but there are also other factors at play.

What 13th does is serve as an exposé on how Jim Crow is still alive and kicking in the USA, just under a different name. DuVernay (and all contributors to this movie) makes some extremely compelling arguments in that regard, and it’s time for white people to listen and do their part in change. We need less of the ‘racism doesn’t exist anymore’ rhetoric, and more of the realisation that racism has simply evolved.

On a technical note, 13th provides a great mix of archive footage and new interviews, keeping the entire movie gripping and varied throughout. A whole story is presented, and although a single documentary could never include every single aspect of the African American experience, it does feel as though a poignant and comprehensive argument is made.

To summarise, what 13th is is essential viewing. You may not want to watch it, but you absolutely have to. Sure, it’s not as enthralling and riveting as Ready Player One or Toy Story, but in terms of importance, this should be at the very top of your list.

13th is available to stream on Netflix UK.

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