The Documentary “13th” by Ava DuVernay

Table of Contents

Introduction: Details regarding the Documentary

In 2016, Netflix released 13th, a documentary film directed by Ava DuVernay. The documentary was intended to draw the public’s attention to the problem of modern ‘slavery’ in the United States, criminalization or incarceration of African Americans, and politicians’ reactions to these issues (Netflix, 2016). As a result, the documentary is interesting not only to African Americans who suffer from prejudice and discrimination but also to social activists. The purpose of this reaction paper is to discuss DuVernay’s position regarding the incarceration of African Americans in the context of modern realities and reflect on ideas presented in the film.

The Purpose of the Documentary

It is important to state that the purpose of DuVernay’s documentary is to present a new perspective from which it is possible to discuss the problem of imprisoning African Americans. DuVernay’s message is that the mass incarceration of blacks is a contemporary variant of slavery that is proclaimed according to the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (Netflix, 2016). Thus, the Thirteenth Amendment states that ‘slavery’ is appropriate as a kind of punishment for some crime (Kruger, 2016). The outcomes of interpreting this idea are presented in the documentary: U.S. prisons are overcrowded; men of ethnicity represent more than 60% of all prisoners; most black prisoners work for benefits of for-profit companies (Netflix, 2016). From this point, the modern system of African Americans’ criminalization can be viewed as a new approach to promoting slavery in U.S. society. Thus, it is possible to agree with DuVernay’s claims as she provides a lot of evidence to support her provocative statements.

Prior Knowledge and Summary

Even if viewers have no prior knowledge regarding the topic, they can focus on the necessary background while watching the documentary because DuVernay provides many historical details to support her discussion of the controversial subject of African Americans’ criminalization. The documentary was produced in the United States, and DuVernay interviewed many scholars and activists to discuss the problematic subject in detail. The key points emphasized in the documentary are that the mass incarceration has its origins in Jim Crow laws, it is supported by American presidents, including Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, and it is promoted by contemporary influential political figures, such as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (Butler, 2016; Netflix, 2016). Furthermore, as it is stated by Michelle Alexander, Craig DeRoche, and Bryan Stevenson, modern corporations are focused on gaining revenues, and politicians’ initiatives help them realize profit goals (Smith, 2016). I should state that DuVernay’s position in this context is a position of a person who wants to demonstrate that modern American society still refers to prejudice, and the problem is not in political choices, but in the culture of slavery reflected even in the U.S. Constitution.

Camera Work and Sound Effects

The camera work and specific music used in the documentary also contribute to accentuating interviewees’ ideas. Thus, when different scholars and activists are presented as discussing the problem of black prisoners, they are depicted from different angles, and various sound effects are used to emphasize their words (Netflix, 2016). Moreover, different types of lighting and backgrounds are also utilized to accentuate different perspectives from which it is possible to discuss this problem. I can state that this approach allows for making the audience focused on interviewees’ statements.

Personal Reaction and Conclusion

While analyzing DuVernay’s 13th, I should also focus on my reaction to this documentary. The most interesting section in the film is the description of historical roots for the development of a modern tendency when American prisons are overcrowded with black men. Moreover, the most striking part is when the interviewees begin to provide evidence to state that this problem is a result of a business and political game oriented to gaining more profits while applying the principle of slavery to modern reality. Thus, I have learned the background of the issue, and I am sure that this documentary will be interesting for each person who wants to examine the problem of overcrowded U.S. prisons and prejudice against African Americans from several provocative perspectives.


Butler, B. (2016). Ava DuVernay’s Netflix film ‘13th’ reveals how mass incarceration is an extension of slavery. The Washington Post. Web.

Kruger, P. (2016). The Fortune. Web.

(2016). 13th. Web.

Smith, N. M. (2016). The Guardian. Web.

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