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The Main Message in 13th Documentary by Ava Duvernay

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The movie 13th is based on the Thirteenth Amendment and written by Ava Duvernay, the movie discusses the crossroads of justice, mass incarceration and race in the United States. In 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment was passed, and slavery was put to an end, but in this film, it talks about the amendment’s exception clause. This clause makes it so slavery is still legal if you have committed a crime, your punishment could be to go and be a slave. This documentary does a spectacular job of showing us how slavery still relates back to our prison and labor systems today and is based around the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Slavery was abolished, except for criminals. Duvernay goes into how slavery has been continued in systems since the end of the Civil War. They are continued through abuse of power by police (arresting people of lower economic class because of their status), freedman and criminalizing behavior. African Americans were placed under arrest for simple things, such as, walking down the street, or standing outside a facility. The documentary expresses the concern for mass incarceration and its negative effects on the Civil Rights movement. The number of prisoners incarcerated began to rise at slow, but steady pace in the 1940’s and continued to rise from there. When the Civil Rights movement began there was another big rise in arrests and incarceration rates. When protesters began to push the political party harder, the political system would resist and return the favor. 13th shows how much money is actually being made off of our prison systems and incarceration rates, the film shares an eye-opening statistic, 1 in 17 White Americans will go to jail in their life span, where 1 in 3 African Americans will go to jail in their life span. This statistic helps prove that racism is still happening in our systems.

Now that slavery was illegal, White Americans were unhappy with this and did all in their power to make sure African Americans felt less than and were shamed. African Americans were seen as predators and the whites took advantage of that, whites began lynching and continued disenfranchisement. Around this time is when the war on drugs began this put more pressure on minorities, which also lead to more mass incarceration. African Americans were powerless in the years leading up to the Twentieth century, they had no say or rights when it came to the political system, and whites had reached an all-time high with their lynching’s. We see an example of how little power they have when Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American boy, was killed and lynched after being in a grocery store and made a woman uncomfortable by him being there. African Americans were being murdered for no reason other than just living. In recent years we have found that Till was actually innocent, and this situation had never even happened.

13th defaces a lot of truth on history and current situations going on with race and our political/judicial system. It shows great examples of police brutality/corruption, more information and history of the Black Lives Matter movement, and White Power. Duvernay paints a great picture as to how protestors are a big part in why we have made the steps to get to where we are. She also makes it recognized the power you can have in your voice and persistence.

Between watching this documentary and topics discussed in class I am realizing how corrupt the legal and justice systems are when it comes to people of color. Taking previous criminal justice classes I had an idea of the corruption, but now after learning more on the history of race and how it still affects the fairness of our systems today, it makes me angry to know that the color of someone’s skin effects how people treat and view them. I believe 13th does a great job at brining awareness and starts important discussions that need to be had regarding how the political, judicial, and legal system are ran and how race plays a major factor in those systems.

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During the film we are asked the question “were African Americans actually ever really “free”?”, this can be argued as yes because, in today’s generation we don’t have the struggle that our ancestors had. Although we still face many issues regarding race today, we luckily don’t have to go through the hell, disrespect, wrongful deaths, and living in constant fear like they did. This question is one that I think we should ask ourselves still to this day, because honestly African Americans and other people of color are unfortunately still looked down on, and still face hardships today based off the color of their skin. We as a society are still not where we should be when it comes to race, fairness, and rights. We need to be the change, not political parties, and our government, we need to make this decision as Americans. We live our everyday life outside of the blinded bubble, and we see what is really happening in our towns, and states and we need to make a change.

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