13th (2016)


Directed by Ava DuVernay
Country: USA

13th” is a powerful Netflix documentary centered on the racial bias lived in the American criminal justice system. The film was directed by the acclaimed Ava DuVernay, a true specialist who makes us aware of this spreading cancer called racial discrimination that feels brutally active in the US. She was the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award. It happened in 2015 with the top-notch historical drama “Selma”.
Also nominated for an Oscar (best documentary) is the awesome “13th”, whose title refers to the 13th amendment to the US Constitution. It was filmed in secrecy and had its premiere last year, opening the New York Film Festival.

The film starts with a curious statement about the US. It’s said the country has 5% of the world population and 25% of the world prisoners. The world’s highest rate of incarceration becomes even more shocking when you learn that a huge percentage of these incarcerations are with African-Americans.
Here’s what the 13th amendment 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.”
Thus, it’s easy to imagine what white supremacists and racist hypocrites, especially those in a position of power such as policemen and prison guards, can do to the colored people and Latinos. What this feature is trying to prove is that mass incarceration inevitably leads to modern slavery.

DuVernay dexterously intercalates archival footage with a variety of testimonials from selected personalities, eventually addressing the flagrant cases that have shocked the world lately.
Moreover, she discloses how much the US presidents contributed to widening this civil rights gap with their supposedly well-intentioned measures – the war on drugs during the Nixon and Reagan administrations and Clinton’s 1994 crime bill.
Another individual to be rebuked is D.W. Griffith due to his erroneous portrayal of the African-American in his controversial 1915 epic film “The Birth of a Nation”.

Fearlessly, and boosted by the activist songs of Nina Simone and Public Enemy, the director points the finger to a rotten system that needs urgent revision in order to give a true meaning to the word ‘justice’. 
She does it with clarity and objectivity, but also indignation, almost in a desperate supplication, in a cry of hope for changing a country, called the land of the free, for better.

Observant, insightful, and necessary, “13th” reaffirms Ava DuVernay as the powerful voice of the oppressed, as well as a world-class filmmaker.