13th (15)

Rachel Baker goes behind bars to review the hard hitting Netflix Original documentary on the States' 13th Amendment.

Rachel Baker
28th November 2016

Ava DuVernay’s 13th is a hard-hitting Netflix original documentary mapping the history of the prison system in the US and why it has become a country of mass incarceration. I wouldn’t go into this documentary in a bad mood, as it does its best to shock you through its images and statistics.

The documentary consists of the opinions of several experts, of all races, essentially arguing that the 13th Amendment loophole is the source of the issue of mass incarceration in the US. Although all the experts have an opinion, they are never at any point so biased that you aren’t totally convinced. By taking us chronologically, from post-civil war America right up until the modern day, DuVernay composes a fantastic testament to the long standing struggles of African Americans.

Quite simply, you’ll leave with absolutely zero faith in humanity and an extreme hatred towards every President ever

The most powerful thing about the film though was its use of images. Expert opinions were interspersed with footage that you sometimes didn’t even want to admit was real, and DuVernay doesn’t spare you any respite either. At points, images from the past 200 years are effectively paired with the haunting voice of Donald Trump proclaiming the ‘good old days’ (and if that doesn’t send a shiver down your spine I don’t know what will). Although we all know Trump’s a dirty racist, it’s only when you see his words in relation to behaviour that occurred 100 years ago that you realise how America really is regressing. DuVernay even offers a sly clip of Hilary back in the day, being only marginally less bigoted than Trump.

Overall, the documentary is an intensely thought-provoking piece, which through the example of the incarceration system in the US illustrates how backward their policies are. Quite simply, you’ll leave with absolutely zero faith in humanity and an extreme hatred towards every President ever. However, you’ll be more aware, if slightly angrier as well. And that’s exactly DuVernay’s intention.

Rating: 4/5

More like this: The Act of Killing (2012)

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