“13th”: A Student Review

Photo by Tyler Rutherford on Unsplash

This past weekend, I watched Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary, “13th”. The film follows experts and advocates, such as professor and activist Melina Abdullah and civil rights leader Angela Davis, as they discuss the origins of the racial disparity in the American prison system, beginning with a loophole in the 13th Amendment. Section one of the amendment 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.

As is observable, this loophole does not prevent slavery or involuntary servitude in the event that a person is convicted of a crime.

Statistics in the film show that white police officers often exploit this loophole in regards to arresting BIPOC, and at one point, the film even states that one in three Black men will have been to prison within their lifetime, evidently as a result of corporate and systemic interests that use mass incarceration to keep certain companies in business and People of Color at a second-class status. Here is a list of every company and politician who currently benefit financially or politically from the prison boom as a result of their association with the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Please do not support them.

A moment in “13th” that was particularly impactful for me was when the film showed videos of innocent Black people, such as Tamir Rice and George Floyd, among many others, being murdered by police officers. I feel ashamed to admit that when these videos came out on social media, I purposefully avoided them. I did not want to see real footage of someone being killed, though I am both haunted and grateful to have been forced to watch them, as they have greatly impacted my perspective on the police brutality situation. As a white woman, I have never even had to fear being wrongfully arrested, nonetheless killed, for something that I am unable to choose nor control. I now understand how important the visibility of the effects of mass incarceration and police brutality are, and I could not recommend watching “13th” more.