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13th by Director Ava Duvernay

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Cedric Barfield


African-American Literature 203


        13th by director Ava DuVernay portrays the ongoing war between people of color, the government, and law enforcement. The documentary starts by explaining the 13th amendment and how it freed slaves but DuVernay points a loophole that allowed for blacks to be thrown back into a legal form of slavery. This clause led to blacks being convicted for petty crimes and even crimes they did not commit. From here DuVernay creates a timeline starting with Jim Crow and ending with the modern Black Lives Matter movement, but each segment does a miraculous job of giving viewers an understanding of the injustices people of color face every day. With her use of statistics, we jump from year from year watch the U.S. prison population increase drastically. DuVernay did an amazing job putting the documentary together, by putting each argument back to back it brings to light that racism and slavery in some form still exist. This technique also allows for the audience to be more educated on the policies and laws implemented by the criminal justice system to keep control over people of color. After viewing 13th I could make many connections to themes talked about in class as well as connections to my personal life.

        The documentary begins with the talk of the Jim Crow era where they speak on the way blacks were viewed by most southern whites during that time. During the Jim Crow era blacks were not seen as equals, but were looked at as savages, out of control and violent threats toward whites. One film analyzed in the documentary is called The Birth of a Nation. This is the first connection that I made between the film and class. In the Birth of a Nation we see a common theme seen in that era called black face where white actors would use make up to make themselves look African American and play the role of an “out of control” black man. By using black face, they could create stereotypes about blacks that were not true and use these stereotypes to control the way blacks are viewed by other whites. Birth of a Nation was the start of a sort of genocide of blacks, causing whites to falsely accuse blacks of crimes they did not commit which led to many blacks being beaten, hung and jailed at unbelievable rates. It is from this mistreatment of blacks that we see the rise of the Civil rights movement where blacks fought for their rights and fought to be equal. This movement ended in 1965 with a victory for blacks, thus making them equals to their white counter parts.

        At the end of the Jim Crow era, we reach a time of where high crime and drug use rates become a problem within our society. During this time, shaming blacks and being openly racist was frowned upon but by associating blacks with the rise in crime they knew that they could still control them. This started war on crime which was later called the war on drugs. This is the beginning of what we call mass incarceration. These policies allowed for changes in drug laws that carried longer sentences and allowed the law enforcement to terrorize black communities, incarcerating blacks more often. The government made stereotypes against blacks referring to them as ‘super predators” and “monsters”, which the media then exploited. This made blacks believe that they were in fact animals. This only became worse when policies including mandatory minimums that gave a set minimum time of incarceration and the truth in sentencing law which made criminals serve a minimum of 85% of their sentence. These policies required judges to overlook circumstances that would result in a lesser sentence. They use the mandatory minimums as way to mentally breakdown and scare blacks into taking plea deals and convict blacks for crimes they did not commit. Giving birth to a new form of racism.



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