Ava DuVernay’s Prison Documentary ‘The 13th’ Gets a Powerful First Trailer
What if America is still living in an era of slavery? What if the abolition of slavery led to a collective consciousness that aligned people of color with definitions of criminality? That’s the argument Ava DuVernay’s latest documentary The 13th makes, suggesting that for over a hundred and fifty years a societal behavior has developed where slavery can still exist under the guise of the mass incarceration.
The title of DuVernay’s Netflix documentary, which opens the New York Film Festival on September 30, refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. It sates, “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…” The Selma filmmaker examines that second qualifying clause to try to understand the current state of the American prison system, especially considering the mass incarceration of black men. The film also looks back on history at the rise of the KKK to the 1994 crime bill signed by then-President Bill Clinton to today’s Black Lives Matter movement.
The first trailer features a handful of interview subjects discussing the current prison system and looking back on history to chart what one subject describes as the “rapid transition to a mythology of black criminality” that arose from the abolition of slavery. “We are the products of the history that our ancestors chose,” another subject says. “Products of that set of choices that we have to understand in order to escape from it.” The trailer, mixed with footage of arrests and imprisonment, including mentions of Kalief Browder and Willie Horton, and news clips of politicians, is just a short glimpse at what looks to be a groundbreaking and powerful film.
But you don’t have to agree with DuVernay’s perspective in the film. “Folks may watch this documentary and come up with a different conclusion than I did,” the filmmaker said in an interview with New York magazine. “All good. Just don’t take anything at face value.” The 13th arrives on Netflix on October 7 followed by a limited theatrical release. Check out the poster below.