Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th is about mass incarceration, and it has open eyes all across America. Before the documentary, I had heard about mass incarceration and knew the basics of what it is. But I had not put mass incarceration into historical context. After watching the film, I felt so complicit in a corrupted system. 13th, is a documentary on Netflix that features famous people such as Angela Davis, Van Jones, Bryan Stevenson, Michelle Alexander, and Henry Louis Gates. The film takes viewers through slavery, jim crow, the civil rights movement, the era of law and order, the war on drugs, and the three strikes policy. For viewers like me, it was the first time that the three strikes policy by Bill Clinton was taught to us. This policy that has caused a lot of damage to black lives was not as mainstream as the war on drugs, which is one of many reasons why having a film as mainstream as 13th capture this information. In addition, the film 13th shows how ALEC, supported by many corporations, has provided Republican legislators with legislation drafts to support the prison-industrial complex. After some of the corporations like Wal-Mart were exposed for their relationships with ALEC, these corporations dropped out after receiving criticism. These corporations relationships with ALEC help them make huge profits from prisons such as Securus. Once again this shows how powerful exposing information that is not well-known but that is extremely significant to a problem as big as mass incarceration.

The documentary shows the decades of lynchings, racial violence and Jim Crow laws that fueled the fight for the civil rights movement. However, after the so called end of the civil rights movement, the efforts to keep black people oppressed and humans with no basic rights continued in the form of mass incarceration. 13th explicitly shows and explains politicians’ efforts to disempower African Americans over the last three centuries. For example, Michelle Alexander breaks down the rhetoric started by Richard Nixon and continued by Ronald Reagan that contributed to a war on black people that was disguised as a war on drugs. During their times as president, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush had support for their policies that “locked up dangerous people” and maintained order.

In the film, 13th discusses how D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation”put forth inaccurate and permanent images of black men as criminals. Rhetoric and images of black people as criminals still lives on today. 13th shows video footage of Donald Trump talking about the Central Park jogger case, in which five black and Latino teenagers were convicted of the a beating and rape in 1989, but DNA evidence proved that they were innocent. The case inspired Trump to take out a full-page ad in the New York Daily News to persuade New York to “bring back the death penalty.” In addition, 13th juxtaposes Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric with pictures of black people being attacked with fire hoses and police dogs during the civil rights movement.


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