Netflix has been going strong with the original content, and they pulled in the talents of Ava DuVernay to lead their next hard-hitting Documentary. So, no excuses for you missing out on this one, since it is available right now. Settle in, because this won’t be an easy journey.
This Documentary covers events from the outlawing of Slavery in America, right up to the modern day. The focus is on how the Thirteenth Amendment abolished Slavery, but under the implications of criminals, was still allowed in some shapes and forms. How this loophole was exploited over the coming decades is discussed in detail, and how the loophole took on new forms and secondary meaning in order to oppress the minority Black community within America.
You can imagine with that context, and with the director of the movie “Selma” at the helm, this doesn’t hold back on ny punches, and lays out the facts in a way that is intended to shock. And yet that shock comes from events that did happen, no speculation or fear-generation tactics are used at all.
I know this is going to be an absurd one to connect it to, but it reminded me of the Documentary “Blackfish” – in how an original aspect just continues to morph and re-define its shape in order to try and hide the hideous truth of what was going on.
The first half or so goes through the hundred or so years after the abolition of Slavery in a very methodical manner, from “Birth of a Nation” to the Chain Gang, Segregation to the War against Crime, and the explosion in Prison Development and mass funding of local Police Forces. Each progression along the timeline is shown to connect to the previous, even though the names and public sentiments differ. I started getting this heavy, boiling feeling in my chest as each decade opened with oppression being rejuvenated time and time again. It was almost to the point of me feeling ill, something that many Biopics and Docs have tried before, but not reached entirely.
The second half gives a stronger focus upon the past ten years, and how large corporations are linked into funding the system in place. You also get a glimpse into the recent protests and struggles which you have no doubt have seen on television, until everything is tied up and connected together. “Criminal” is the word that is repeatedly returned to, with the actual definition of it becoming all the more skewed the longer it is said – I think this was the aim of the director from the very start. To think how a small entity within the 13th Amendment could have caused so much grief and hurt for millions of Americans was extremely unsettling.
This second half was maybe the time where the structure gets a bit hurt, because the elements beforehand were stacked in a way that felt very organic and linear. After that, you kind of feel like you are darting from one area to the next, and opened to a stream of information that doesn’t always have the same emotional impact. I actually thought the halfway point was the end of the Documentary until it took to another topic. More than a critical problem, it is just a misplacement in the pace that had previously been perfection.
But let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, this is a Documentary that is intended to provide information and to leave you with an emotional connection, or response, by the end. There were times I was hovering on the verge of tears, scenes of lynchings and horrendous brutality, seeing politicians making the same mistakes over and over again, the appalling conditions within the Prison system, and modern videos of killings that were extremely hard to watch again. Moments of respite are few and far between, the facts and visuals constantly attack your senses and underlying hopes of humanity. By the end, I was visibly shaking, and that took quite a while to pass.
That is the thing with a Documentary with these subject matters, you are barraged with hits from a sledgehammer because in today’s society, that is the only way in order to REALLY get the message across. Otherwise you would take on board what you had saw, but probably lose memory of it over time. There’s no way in hell I can forget what this showed any tie soon.
“13th” is harrowingly unsettling, it is very difficult to sit through without getting both angry, and grief-stricken. But it remains one that needs to be seen, and had to be made considering the current climate that so many will have to live through. What is being discussed isn’t questionable, we all know every aspect happened, but maybe didn’t connect the dotted lines. This will do that for you, no matter how disturbing that truth will be. The overall pacing and delivery of the content in the second half could have been improved, and some items could have been given more time for analysis. But the requirement for seeing this still stands.
Thanks for reading!