The documentary “13th” begins with an alarming statistic: One out of four African-American males will serve prison time at one point or another in their lives.
Premiering recently at the New York Film Festival, “13th” is the first documentary to open the festival in its 54 year history. Director Ava DuVernay ’s takes an unflinching, well-informed and thoroughly researched look at the American system of incarceration, specifically how the prison industrial complex affects people of color.
When the 13th amendment was ratified in 1865, its drafters left themselves a large, very exploitable loophole in the guise of an easily missed clause in its definition. That clause, which converts slavery from a legal business model to an equally legal method of punishment for criminals, is the subject of the Netflix documentary “13TH.”
DuVernay not only interviews liberal scholars and activists for the cause like Angela Davis, Henry Louis Gates and Van Jones, she also devotes screen time to conservatives such as Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. Each interviewee is shot in a location that evokes an industrial setting, which visually supports the theme of prison as a factory churning out the free labor that the 13th Amendment supposedly dismantled when it abolished slavery.