Film Review: 13th

Ava DuVernay’s 13th is an informative, engaging, sad and powerful documentary about our country’s criminal justice system that should be seen by as many as people as possible.

Before even reading this review, just go watch 13th now, on Netflix.

DuVernay is best known for her film Selma a couple of years back, and her follow-up feature is a documentary about a little known clause of the 13th Amendment of the United States, which abolished slavery, that allows criminals to be still be used as slaves. From there, the film spends its front half taking us through the history of discrimination of colored people and how our political establishment kept the discrimination alive, before jumping ahead to our current state of affairs. As you might have noticed, current affairs are not great.

DuVernay does a wonderful job of collecting informed and eloquent individuals to take us through our country’s history of discrimination, providing expert opinion along with visual support for their arguments whenever possible. Being the times we live in today, DuVernay has a lot to work with and has no problem laying out the evidence to support her subjects’ arguments that is clear and irrefutable. I don’t know how any clear headed individual could watch this film and not be convinced and enlightened to the many institutionalized issues against people of color that have and continue to be a problem for this country.

DuVernay might have even exposed and got ahead of a couple of the big new ideas that discrimination might be heading, which is just one example of the excellent investigating being done behind the scenes on this documentary. DuVernay even gets a few people often on the wrong side of this conversation to come on camera and defend their position. She often slays them through some brilliant editing, destroying their argument without shouting a word. DuVernay’s doc is hardly a partisan affair, though, as she lets her subjects freely go after both the left and right with just arguments.

DuVernay’s direction shines brightest in the harrowing final few minutes of the film where she so clearly shows how Donald Trump’s rhetoric is a clear call back to the political manipulations of old and following this up with the visual reminders of where this rhetoric has currently taken us. Showing the footage of many of the shootings by police of people of color, most of which I have never seen by choice, is as powerful as it sounds and is a stark reminder of how much progress there still needs to be in this country’s race relations.

DuVernay’s 13th covers so much ground, so succinctly and efficiently, you will walk away from this film so much better informed about the issues raised in the film. DuVernay’s directorial hand guides you along with ease while never pulling any punches and the audience will be better served because of it. DuVernay finds hope in this incredibly sad situation, but we have to continue to fight for change and push back against these years of aggression against our fellow Americans. I hope 13th will open eyes and changes minds.

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