The 13th18 Jan 2017
Ava Duvernay’s argument in this film is indebted to Michelle Alexander, Ta-nehisi Coates, Skip Gates, Brian Stevenson, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Angela Davis, Cornell West and many others. Thankfully, almost every one of these writers and intellectuals is on screen in this film. Using the 13th Amendment, especially a middle phrase (“ except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted”) as a framing device was a genius way to construct this argument from the ground up.
In addition to these words, Duvernay uses lyrics, pictures, news footage, straight-to-camera interviews, and other traditional tools of documentary to construct a compelling narrative about mass incarceration, black subjugation and abuses of policing power by the state.
The foils she picks, mostly people like Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich and a board member of ALEC, are less compelling. My bias is always toward nuance and complication, but some arguments are clear cut. The other side of this argument, perhaps, is just not nearly as compelling. The way criminal justice works in our country is broken, unfair, and immoral.