13th (2016)

Locked up and they don’t let you out. Even if you’re at home.

The Thirteenth Amendment, as written states that, “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, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Meaning, in other words, that even if slavery is abolished in our country and no man, woman, or child of color is supposed to be claimed as “property”, somehow, there’s a loophole created in which, if a person is in jail, they are allowed to be considered, for lack of a better term, “slaves”. Ava DuVernary shows us exactly how we get there, what spurred that decision, and how, in the many, many years since, our country has upheld those traditions by putting a better and bigger focus on imprisonment, when it should be about a whole lot more than just keeping the prisoners in prison.

Through previous examples in the past, documentary film makers who make the switch over to full-length, narrative-flicks, tend to not work out so well. Sure, there’s the likes of Kevin Macdonald, who got his start in documentaries, only to turn the other cheek, try his hand at narrative-flicks and yeah, still do great things, but then there’s also the likes of Michael Moore who, after solid documentaries, tried his hand with Canadian Bacon and well, the less said about the movie, the better. But it’s interesting to see someone who is known for their full-length, narrative flicks, like DuVernay, take a stab at documentaries and come off a whole lot better than, dare I say it, her other actual movies in the first place.

Apparently, also a "CRIMINAL."
Apparently, also a “CRIMINAL.”

That said, 13th is very much a thought-provoking and powerful statement on our economy, our culture, and our nation’s history with racism and imprisonment. But still, it’s a whole lot more than that; rather than being one rousing speech about injustices and racism, after another, DuVernay shows the history of how our country has gotten to where we’re at today. See, it wasn’t too long ago that the KKK was running wild around the South, looking for black people and stringing them up on trees – in a way, they’re still doing that, but it’s much more different.

While this may seem like a whole lot of speculation, the movie shows how the days of yesteryear, still haven’t changed. And even if they had, they’re being changed in certain ways to where it’s more politically correct to substitute “criminal”, for “slave”. DuVernay’s got a lot to say and whole lot more on her mind and in her head, but she doesn’t allow for 13th to just be her on her soapbox and never getting off of it.

See, for obvious reasons, 13th is about everyone in our society – not just black people, or white people.

But everyone.

And that’s why 13th, in all honesty, is one of the better documentaries I’ve seen in quite some time. It approaches a subject and a topic that could have been so desperately one-sided and obvious from the very start, but instead, shows all different perspectives and takes on its topic, that it’s actually quite brilliant and better off for that reason. While DuVernay definitely has a point she wants to make, she still allows for a lot of people to have their say, as well as the spotlight, whether it be positive, or negative; people who automatically think that she just trashes on Trump and leaves it at that, will be surprised to see that both of the Clintons get a little roasted on the fire as well. Even people that she talks to, like the representatives from ALEC (who are a huge focus-point here) and yes, even Newt Gingrich himself, aren’t painted in a bad light – they’re telling their sides of situations and stories and guess what, DuVernay gives them the chance to do so.

How they choose to represent themselves is entirely in their hands.

But honestly, the main reason why 13th works so well is because it feels so very relevant, so very off-the-times, that it’s hard not to get swept up in the emotional and power of it all. By the end of the flick, after we’ve witness how our country has, single-handedly, ensured that more and more people in our country will get put in prison, DuVernay shows us how the battle and incrimination isn’t just behind the bars, or in the cells, but actually on our own streets and in our own homes. There comes a point where DuVernay shows us all of the sickening and downright disturbing footage of all the members of the black community who have been shot and killed by law-enforcement, for reasons that are still unknown to us. If you’re the person who chose not to watch these bits and pieces of footage in the first place, then be ready to be shocked and mad as hell.

And yes, another supposed "CRIMINAL."
And yes, another supposed “CRIMINAL.”

And really, that’s what DuVernay wants us to feel. She wants us to rise up and have something to say, regardless of race, gender, or political affiliation. Even if you are a cold, blue-blooded Republican, or Conservative, there’s no reason or rhyme for why you should sit by and watch as police mow-down unarmed, seemingly innocent men and women in the street just because they, the trained-professionals themselves, felt “threatened”. Even if you believe it to just be a race thing and a way for our country to get rid of “the black people”, trust me, it’s going to come around to white people soon enough.

Either way, political affiliation doesn’t matter here with 13th.

In fact, what it’s all about is whether or not you can stand by and watch as people, day in and day out, black, white, yellow, whatever, get killed, locked-up, and thrown away from the rest of society for good. Some may deserve it, sure, but a whole lot of people don’t and it’s up to us, whether or not we want to sit by and watch it all blow-up in smoke. Sure, I’ve been doing a whole lot more preaching than I would have liked, but hey, that’s what happens when you have a great documentary on your hands that doesn’t let up and forces you see things and think.

Consensus: Hard-hitting, thought-provoking, and brave, 13th shows Ava DuVernay tacking a whack at documentaries and absolutely hitting it out of the park.

9 / 10

Oh yeah, and that guy.
Oh yeah, and that guy.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, The Playlist, Washington Post


  1. Brill review. I’m excited to see this one. I’m really enjoying the wave of hard-hitting documentaries that’s taking over at the moment, we’re seeing a lot of controversial issues come into the light.

  2. I definitely agree. The way that DuVernay shows us the history and clearly explains the progression to our awful current situation works so well. It’s an effective and moving film that lets almost no one off the hook.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s