13th on Netflix: What is 13th about? Powerful documentary on racial injustice

3 min


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13th is a 2016 documentary from visionary director Ava DuVernay. The director of Martin Luther King Jnr biopic Selma, DuVernay shines a light on one of the biggest issues facing the USA today: the criminalisation of African Americans. Due to current events, with the death of George Floyd, a documentary like 13th has become vital viewing for those seeking to educate themselves further.

What is the 13th about?

The official synopsis for the film reads: “In this thought-provoking documentary, scholars, activists and politicians analyse the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom.”

The documentary begins with former President Barack Obama, speaking of how the US holds five percent of the world’s population, but a staggering 25 percent of its prison inmates.

Following this, a series of scholars, intellectuals, political figures and historians speak about the history of slavery, systems of racial control existent in the USA and how these have acted as a precursor to the current prison crisis in the US.

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13th by Ava DuVernay (Image: Netflix)

The film also deals with the issue of police brutality towards ethnic minorities, particularly black men, as the film ends with tragic images of unarmed BAME people being shot down by police.

Given the recent events in the US with regards to the death of George Floyd, the documentary has been recommended by many to learn more about racial injustice in the US.

Floyd was a black man stopped by police investigating the purchase of cigarettes with counterfeit money in Minneapolis on May 25.

In a video taken of the arrest, white police officer Derek Chauvin forced Floyd to the ground and knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.

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Politician Newt Gingrich and Ava DuVernay (Image: Netflix)

Floyd pleaded he could not breathe and was later pronounced dead in hospital.

Since his death, hundreds of thousands of people across the world have protested as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

These protests have been seen in the streets as well as on social media, where black squares appeared on Instagram and other platforms.

Four police officers have been arrested in relation to the death, with Chauvin charged with second-degree murder.

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Activist Angela Davis in 13th (Image: Netflix)

What did critics say about Ava DuVernay’s 13th?

The documentary received universal acclaim, receiving a 97 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, and a 91 percent audience score on the same platform.

The film won the BAFTA for Best Documentary, a Primetime Emmy and a Peabody Award, as well as several other awards and nominations.

It was nominated for the Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards, but narrowly missed out on the top prize with OJ: Made in America taking the gong.

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Archival footage of the KKK shown in 13th (Image: Netflix)

Richard Brody of The New Yorker said of the film: “The film reveals crimes that have been fabricated in the service of oppression as well as another, real and ongoing crime-against humanity.”

Sight and Sound magazine commented: “The documentary teems with facts and archive footage. The mass of information can be intimidating, but the argumentation is well-constructed.”

CNN’s Brian Lowry added: “Given the concerns about relations between law enforcement and minority communities, 13th could hardly be timelier.”

13th is available to stream on Netflix now


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