Ava Duvernay's 13th: Film Analysis

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Ava DuVernay’s 13th is a documentary about how the Thirteenth Amendment led to mass incarceration in the United States, but it’s also a exploration of words of their power, their roots, their permanence. Many Americans by now are familiar with the language of the country’s racial hegemony. Some shun certain words while others make anthems out of them. The film opens with an analysis of the 13th amendment: “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 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States. The amendment was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865 and ratified by the states on December 6th, 1865. 13th then…show more content…
Our journey begins from there, with a lot of familiar and occasionally surprising talking heads filling the frame and providing information. DuVernay not only interviews liberal scholars and activists for the cause like Angela Davis, Henry Louis Gates and Van Jones, she also devotes screen time to conservatives such as Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. Each interviewee is shot in a location that evokes an industrial setting, which visually supports the theme of prison as a factory churning out the free labor that the 13th Amendment supposedly dismantled when it abolished slavery. We’re told that, after the Civil War, the economy of the former Confederate States of America was decimated. Their primary source of income, slaves, were no longer obligated to line Southerners’ pockets with their blood, sweat and tears. Unless, of course, they were criminals. “Except as punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” reads the loophole in the law. In the first iteration of a “Southern strategy,” hundreds of newly emancipated slaves were re-enlisted into free, legal servitude courtesy of minor or trumped-up charges. The duly convicted part may have been questionable, but by no means did it need to be justifiably

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