13th. Repackaging slavery

13TH | Official Trailer

A couple of days ago, film director Lucy Walker published a short list of documentaries to unleash the activist in you. I thought i’d make my way through the list. Starting with the one that looked the most interesting to me: 13th, a film by Ava DuVernay, that argues that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery except as “punishment for crime,” has not outlawed the practice of slavery. It has merely repackaged it into a ruthlessly efficient system of mass incarceration.

The film uses archival footage and interviews with historians, activists and other experts to expose how the subjugation of black people has evolved into a system designed to get black men into jails, grind them and them spit them out with little chance to re-build their life.

As the film reminds us, the U.S. accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of its prisoners. In 2014, over 2 million people were incarcerated (a 500% increase over the last 40 years) and 40% of them are African-American men.

Academic and civil rights activist Angela Davis interviewed in 13TH. Still from the film

Still from the film 13th

I watched 13th yesterday. It’s on on netflix. It’s a shocking, harrowing movie. Yet you don’t doubt for a moment that it tells the truth. Not when you read that a (black) man spent 31 years in prison for crimes he did not commit, then was given a pitiful $75 as a compensation for decades unjustly spent behind bars. Not when so many police officers walk free after having murdered people. Most of them black men and women. Not when people are so afraid to be harassed and killed under spurious pretexts that they feel the need to remind society that they have the right to live too.

The moment that upset me the most? This one:

An extract from 13TH

Releasing the film on Netflix is a smart move. It gives the message more chances to reach people who might otherwise feel totally unconcerned by the issue.

Please, drop whatever you’re doing right now and watch this documentary!

Still from the film 13th

The 13th
Interview with Van Jones, an author, activist and co-founder of several organizations including the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights which focuses on police brutality and youth prisons

Related story: Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter and A People’s Art History of the United States. 250 Years of Activist Art and Artists Working in Social Justice Movements.