Ava DuVernay’s stirring documentary 13th (A) explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on post-slavery laws and media representation followed by an examination of the rise of a mass incarceration system which has shackled African-Americans both physically and metaphorically throughout the history of our culture. Interviews with eyewitnesses and experts such as Angela Davis and Van Jones are balanced with policymakers such as Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist to paint a fairly bipartisan glimpse at the mistakes of generations of presidential administrations, regional legislators and corporations in poorly serving the interests of minority communities. Peppering the compelling history lesson is poignant music of recent decades (Public Enemy and Common, to name a few) and stark sequences of multimedia to demonstrate the way Black America has been boxed in despite a constitutional amendment granting freedom. Particularly illuminating and powerful, since DuVernay is also a narrative filmmaker, are her references to the 1915 film Birth of a Nation, which actually originated the use of burning crosses as a terrorist tool of the KKK. Her gripping film makes a clear-eyed and essential argument that African-Americans have lived a different and parallel lives to those of privilege, and its take-down of the prison industrial complex will be illuminating to viewers. This may indeed be DuVernay’s seminal work as she is in complete command of a myriad of complex issues and delivers a piercing thesis. This is must-see moviemaking.
The entire feature is now available to view for free in full on YouTube: