Ava DuVernay’s 13th looks and feels like something criminology professors will be screening to their students in perpetuity, yet why should that matter in the end? It may be lean, streamlined, and full of talking heads, but it also presents a compelling argument about the prison industrial complex and how black people in the U.S. are now being subjected to a modern form of slavery that has been insidiously—and knowingly—displaced onto the legal system by political rhetoric and corporate interests. Having studied criminology in university, DuVernay’s argument is not only well-argued, but makes complete sense based on material that I’ve previously read. Not an expert in criminology or sociology? That’s OK. DuVernay provides you with copious receipts so that you understand what she’s doing here. She wants you to sit up and take notice, to understand why Black Lives Matter sprang up, to empathise with the people who are being unfairly targeted, punished and killed. She does one hell of a job, I think.
Oh, and that montage of Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric being superimposed on footage of a white mob harassing a black man during the Jim Crow era? So chilling, especially since this was finished well before he won the election. I still can’t believe this is where we are now, but then again, 13th also shows us that we shouldn’t be too surprised. The poison has been in the water for years. And we need to stand together to start taking it out.