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Personal Review of The Movie '13th Documentary'

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I found the 13th documentary by Ava DuVernay extremely compelling but also a bit hard to watch. It was strange because I knew the feeling I had wasn’t empathy, as I had never experienced a fraction of the discrimination expended on some of the people interviewed, yet it made me feel incredibly sad regardless. The complete story covers years of information and legal processes, but the film mainly surrounds the idea and the explanation of the 13th amendment, which states, “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, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Off the bat, DuVernay shocked me with the extremely alarming statistic stating that one in four African American men will serve prison time at one point or another. I had watched this before learning these statistics in class, so it really floored me at this point. I had no idea the rates were that high. Immediately this made me further understand the point Bryan Stevenson was trying to make about the extreme racial disparity in the justice system. I simply coud not believe this. I immediately did some “googling” after this, and further learned African American’s are incarerated at 5x the rate as white people. In my opinion, there is no difference in race that could account for such a great difference – only bias of the people incarertaing them. Following this is a clip of President Obama, who gives yet another scary statistic: while the United States has only 5% of the World’s population, we incarerated 25% of the world’s prisoners. This only further emphasized the fact that there is something wrong with the US justice system. As a high developed, first world country, we should not, could not, and (in my opinion) do not have 25% of the worlds prisoners within our borders.

The documentary is more or less a series of interviews DuVernay conducts, all providing different information about this 13th amendment and the probems surrounding it. A lot of the interviewees were actualy people who had been formerly incarcertated within the US system. One thing I noticed was that all the interviews were conducted inside some industrial style area – never outside, never in open spaces, just in an “imprisoned” settings. All the interviews help shape DuVernay’s idea that although the 13th amendment was meant to “abolish” slavery, it really never ended in the United States. She argues that biased behavior and unfair punishemnts exibihted by those in power in the justice system have continued slavery into modern day America, and I can’t help but agree with her. Even just reading the amendment alone made me do a double take – I didn’t really realize the strategic wording of the amendment. Essentially, slavery is still allowed if a white man in power determines that another man should have to serve, and I just find that inheretnetly wrong. If we abolished slavery, we should completey abolish it.

DuVernay’s use of simple word imagery is what made this film really “pop” for me. The statistics at the beggining were shown by themselves: no pictures, no video or audio, just the “1 in 4” statistic. In addition, the film cuts to a screen with nothing but the word “CRIMINAL” against a black background mutliple times throughout it. I think this was supposed to symbolize how easy it is to define people of color as just that, without actually looking at them individually. She seems to talk a lot about this idea of the “scary Black criminal” throughout the story. This was similar to a topic I covered when learning about the rise of hip hop in America. White American’s seem to have an almost biologically predisposed fear of African Americans. We’ve taken a few truthful accounts of crime, exagerrated and skewed them, and decided to permanently attach these criminal behaviors to all African American people. The harsh display of these words on the screen honestly burned the information right into my head, it was an extremely powerful tactic.

To summarize, the film and information it provides does follow some sort of path in my opinion. The timeline starts with the end of slavery, moving through segregation and then to the idea that I also covered in my hip hop class, the association between the Black person and criminal behavior. She goes into the war on drugs, and how these helped lead to the heavy rise of incarcertation rates.  

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Personal Review of the Movie ’13th Documentary’. (2022, August 30). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 22, 2022, from
“Personal Review of the Movie ’13th Documentary’.” GradesFixer, 30 Aug. 2022,
Personal Review of the Movie ’13th Documentary’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Sept. 2022].
Personal Review of the Movie ’13th Documentary’ [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Aug 30 [cited 2022 Sept 22]. Available from:
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