13th

Year: 2016
Director: Ava DuVernay
Written by Jakob Barnes

I had no idea this documentary existed until just the other day, when the guys at InSession Film dedicated an episode of their podcast to this latest offering from Ava DuVernay (Director of ‘Selma’). I’d like to think that I’m pretty conscious of the issue of black oppression in America, and it’s an issue which I feel very strongly about. But after watching this documentary, my eyes have been opened further still to the horrifying truth – that racism, slavery and political agendas hellbent on criminalising African Americans are just as prevalent in today’s America as they always have been.

With Ava DuVernay behind the project, this film should hopefully reach a wider audience than most documentaries ordinarily would. After the resounding success of ‘Selma’, DuVernay has proven she can portray difficult and delicate subject matter in a powerful and provocative way. With ’13th’, she has reinforced her position as one of the most accomplished and exciting female directors breaking into the film industry today. But I’m sure that’s not her primary objective here. DuVernay is a prominent figure in the Black Lives Matter movement, and in this instance, film is simply a platform for which to transmit a message which is tragically essential in today’s world. It’s just a shame that the human race needs a film like this to act as a wake up call in the pursuit of liberty and justice.

We are given a cross-section of the history of black oppression in America, from its roots in slavery as we know it, through the highly-destructive presidential reigns of Nixon, Reagan and George Bush snr, all the way to the vitriolic and disgusting campaign of Donald Trump, right here, right now. That’s the thing that really hits home about this documentary – we’re not just witnessing the horrors of human history, we’re confronted with a problem which still exists, and has potential to get even worse. With the recent exposure given to repeated incidents of police brutality against black people, this documentary is sadly very relevant, but the truth is, these acts of violence and racial oppression aren’t new. Through manipulating legal loopholes and positions of power, imprisonment and murder of black people has been systematically carried out even after the abolition of slavery.

DuVernay utilises a combination of hard-hitting and emotional interviews, with impacting raw footage from protests and acts of police brutality, to create a documentary which really stirs the emotions. You will be shocked, and you will be angry and distressed, but I think that evoking such feelings is a really necessary and important step in sparking a change in the way black people are treated. But this isn’t simply a documentary which plays on emotions to influence its viewers. The facts speak for themselves – the number of black Americans under police surveillance today, now exceeds the number of black people who were enslaved. Add to this the tragic stories of victims of oppression, and you get a documentary which simply cannot be ignored, and one that I genuinely believe could act as a real catalyst for revolution. 

This really is a must-see, and it couldn’t be easier to access (you’ll find it on Netflix). It won’t be a nice experience, but it is incredibly necessary. I implore you to take 100 minutes out of your day to watch this documentary, and then tell your friends and family to do the same. The issue of someone being subjected to oppression and violence and having their human rights stripped away from them, all because of the colour of their skin, is not just America’s problem; the world has a responsibility to recognise and put an end to such archaic and vile injustices. The path to justice and liberty might just start with this brilliant documentary, and I challenge you to find a better reason to watch a film than that. 

Jakob’s rating: 8.9 out of 10
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