Amendments That Need Amending – 13th (2016)

Black lives still matter.  So this is a documentary about our 13th amendment, which is the one that abolished slavery if you slept through social studies.  It shows the history of America’s prison systems through the years, and how even though slavery has been outlawed, day to day life is far from equal when it comes to the color of one’s skin.  This is from the director of Selma, Ava DuVernay, which makes total sense; she has a voice that demands to be heard, and she is doing more for black people via the means of cinema than anybody else out there.  There are plenty of reasons to be angry, and you can’t blame her when you look at the facts.  She has put together one upsetting documentary with 13th.

1The statistics are pretty jaw-dropping, like how 1 in every 3 black males can expect to go to prison, when that ratio is 1:17 for white men.

Right from the beginning, you can tell that this is going to be a pretty rough documentary to sit through, but hey, most of the best ones are, and some of the most unpleasant subjects to talk about have the best points that need to be raised.  I think DuVernay is well aware of this fact, and because of it, she makes this movie very streamlined and well-edited together.  This movie is broken up with appropriate black music from the time period, from chain-gang sing-along’s of the 1920’s to the pointed and angry hip hop of modern day.  And there are printed lyrics and words that ebb and flow across the screen during these transitions, and the word you see over and over again is “criminal”.  When the South lost in the Civil War, there was an obvious need to rebuild, and being that slavery just got abolished, who was going to do all the work?  Well, if you arrest black people for minor infractions, you can obtain that source of labor that’s so recently become absent, which is why 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”.  This is just one of many terrific points that are touched upon here, and it is something that I, as a white person, have never really given much thought to, but it makes total and complete sense when you step back and think about it.

2It is disheartening that we as a people have come such a small distance after all of these years.

This is a movie that helps you to understand the very foundation that this country was built on.  It’s all about reading between the lines, and showing you the why of it all, the motivation of the man behind the curtain.  If you follow the paper trail it is not all that hard to figure out, and it’s not fair or right that some get written off by society as a criminal, while others facing the exact same charges can walk away with reputation in tact simply because of the color of their skin.  The Trayvon Martin bit hit really close to home because it was that recent and that upsetting, but this is not the movie that ever flinches or shies away from its point.  If this doesn’t make you upset, you are part of the problem.

13th (2016) ****

– Critic for Hire

Want to see where this fell in my list of best films of the 2016?  See for yourself here.

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