Netflix’s documentary, 13th, about social injustice and the broken U.S. prison system is one of the most powerful documentaries I have ever seen. This genre can so easily be boring but there was not one instance that I checked to see how long was left in the film. Besides the interviews, pictures, and videos, there were breaks in the film for music and visual statistics, which keeps the viewer constantly engaged.
It opened up with President Obama presenting a statistic about the prison population in the United States. His voice set the tone for a thoughtful, emotional, but factual, documentary. The main topic is how the 13th amendment basically made African-Americans go from being slaves to being criminals. The movie explains how this was partly because of economic reasons (the Civil War left the south in financial trouble because they had about 4 million former slaves who weren’t working for free anymore). When the Union won the Civil War and the 13th amendment was put into place, slavery went away but segregation was just beginning.
This documentary also offered a different perspective on Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The 40th president of the US is often mythologized because of his great accomplishments. It exploited the “war on drugs” and what declaring that statement did to the African-American communities. Michelle Alexander states, “So many aspects of the old Jim Crow are suddenly legal again once you’ve been branded a felon. And so it seems that in America, we haven’t so much ended racial caste but simply redesigned it.”
Music also played a part in this film. There were some breaks in the story to play bits of songs (accompanied by the lyrics shown on screen) that describes and encapsulates the slaves’ and the criminals’ pain. One lyric that stood out to me was: “You treated like a criminal, crime is all you know.” It basically states that there are certain areas that have high crime rates where kids are treated like criminals. Most of those kids assume that they will end up in jail someday, and that is partly because of the way not only authorities treat them, but also the general public.
The film talks about the effect of The Birth of A Nation, the rebirth of the KKK, drug problems, and how the presidents negatively affected the criminalization of Black people.
Rengel says, “We have too many laws locking too many people up for too many things, giving them sentences that are too harsh, putting them in prison, and while they’re in prison, doing very little, if anything, to rehabilitate them so that they can reenter civil society when they get out. And then when they get out, we shun them.”
I highly encourage everyone to watch this movie (it’s on Netflix, it can’t get easier!) It’s educational and very interesting. Plus, the director is a woman, Ava DuVernay, which makes it even better!!!
“When black lives matter, everybody’s lives matter.”