43 of #52FilmsByWomen: 13th


13th (2016, directed by Ava DuVernay)

[No 43 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

13th in the film’s title refers to the 13th amendment to constitution of the United States. It is the amendment that abolishes slavery in 1865. This documentary examines the racial dynamics after the abolishment of slavery, in a country that still disproportionately imprisons minority Americans through mass incarcerations.

The 13th amendment is supposed to grant equal freedom to all citizens of the country, save for one loophole – criminals. According to the amendment, criminals are still liable to indentured servitude. To keep up with their financial interests, property owners find various ways to maintain their black slave workforce by charging them with various criminal offences, however petty and minor they are. This is perhaps the origin of the ‘black men are criminals’ stereotype.

The documentary shows how African-American communities are affected as times and politics change from the mid-19th century to the prison-industrial complex of the present day.

This movie is perhaps especially relevant in the aftermath of the US 2016 presidential elections, where nearly half the country chose a inexperience racist sexual predator to lead the country who based his campaign on xenophobia.

To non-Americans observing the recent elections, I would highly recommend watching this movie. Based on what I’ve seen in my social media circles, Malaysians, Singaporeans, and Europeans commenting on the elections seemed to be overlooking this issue. Most of us seem to be thinking that the von Clownstick administration is dangerous because he might accidentally start World War III. But as best I can tell, what’s truly worrisome to Americans  is the election of Drumpf shows that racism in the country is far from over, and that the administrative bodies of the country will pass bills and laws that will ruin the lives of many poeple of colour in the country.

The most gut-wrenching part of the documentary is where they brought up the issue of unarmed black people being killed by the police. Even though I’ve heard about some of these cases through the years, it was hard to watch the scene where the movie shows the footage from the various cases all at once, in a long montage.

This is a gripping documentary about an issue that very few people outside the US are aware of. It’s on Netflix. Watch it if you can.



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