13th (2016): Documentary / Crime

The astronomical rise of the prison population in the US throughout the decades, through victimization of ethnic minorities and partnerships between correctional facilities and private corporations.

A brave new world! Well, not so new really. Well, not so brave either I guess. Writer, producer, and director Ava DuVernay hits the nail on the head with a revealing documentary on the, once inexplicable, rise of the prison population and its deep connections to the racial inequality, the capitalist system, and their common denominator which is none other than the continuously manipulative governments.

I am pretty convinced that DuVernay’s footage was dozens of hours long and she could probably have had about three documentaries like 13th. While evaluating her footage, she decided to narrow it down and tell the story the way she did. The documentary’s strong suit is the information it provides on the connection between the era of slavery to the media and cinema and The Birth of a Nation (1915) to the present era, and how is all connected to the rise of the correctional facilities industry. I for one, and not being American, I didn’t have the foggiest so that was, while unpleasant and disheartening, an eye-opening experience. The research was also solid and the archive footage was strong and extremely effective, it literally put a lot into perspective.

And even though I learned loads about the disgusting, filthy companies that profit from human suffering, I didn’t get around why the poor who can’t get out of prison have been incarcerated to begin with. I got an idea, don’t get me wrong, but instead on spending some time to expand on it, it expanded on movements and actions that were not related to the rise of the prison population.

The editing in documentaries such as 13th plays a catalytic role in narrative formation. Documentary is research. The filmmaker does not really know where it will lead or how it will really lead them where it will. It is a journey. O.J.: Made in America (2016) is a perfect example of that. 7 hours and 47 minutes, after editing, that focuses on the chronicle of O.J. Simpson, the anchor of the documentary, and only expands to the events that surround his case.

Regardless, 13th is a must-watch as is DuVernay’s previous work Selma (2014), and the biographical When They See Us (2019) – reviews to follow.

Panagiotis, this one’s for you mate. Thank you for the recommendation.

Stay safe!

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