Ava DuVernay’s 13th
In her new documentary, the filmmaker
explores how the Thirteenth Amendment
led to an epidemic of mass incarceration
in the United States.
Ava DuVernay’s 13th is a documentary about how the Thirteenth Amendment led to mass incarceration in the United States, but it’s also a gorgeous, evocative, and maddening exploration of words: of their power, their roots, their permanence. It’s about those who wield those words and those made to kneel by them. Many Americans by now are familiar with the coded language of the country’s racial hegemony. Some shun certain words while others make anthems out of them.
The film opens with an analysis of the eponymous amendment: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” 13th then spends over an hour and a half tracing the path from the clause between those two commas to the 2.2 million prisoners in the American justice system.