Black Lives Matter — Must-See Film: 13th

The other day, deciding I needed to know more about Black Live Matters, I watched the Netflix film 13th

There was so much I did not know.

13th is a 2016 American documentary by director Ava DuVernay. The film explores the “intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States.” The title refers to the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, adopted in 1865, which abolished slavery throughout the United States and ended involuntary servitude except as a punishment for conviction of a crime.

Wikipedia says the film documents how slavery has been perpetuated since the end of the American Civil War through criminalizing behavior and enabling police to arrest poor freedmen and force them to work for the state under convict leasing; suppression of African Americans by disenfranchisement, lynchings and Jim Crow laws; politicians declaring a war on drugs that weighs more heavily on minority communities and, by the late 20th century, mass incarceration of people of color in the United States. The film examines the prison-industrial complex and the emerging detention-industrial complex, discussing how much money is being made by corporations from such incarcerations.

Particularly amazing was the exposure of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has been influencing US legislation since 1973, as a partner with US corporations and Republican legislators.

Oppression is institutionalized in America. The oppression of people of colour is still a money-making business, as it was in the days of overt slavery.

I much preferred Angela Davis’s use in the movie of the term “people of colour” to the stereotypical and dichotomous “Black” and “White” language.

The issue is called racial discrimination, but I think we must all realize and believe deeply in the fact that we are all one race — the same single human race. 

The end of the film shows cases of police aggression just like the recent murder of George Floyd. I live in Canada where there is a similar situation for the Indigenous First Nations minority who are oppressed. Here is a video from March 2020 of Chief Alan Adam being beaten up by RCMP officers, in a chokehold. Incredibly he was charged with resisting arrest and unlawful assault of a police officer and his wife was arrested for obstruction.

13th was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 2017 Academy Awards, and won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards. It received an approval rating of 97% from Rotten Tomatoes, whose critics’ consensus said, “13th strikes at the heart of America's tangled racial history, offering observations as incendiary as they are calmly controlled.”

In places, 13th is not an easy film to watch, but it is a must-see.

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