Ava DuVernay's documentary film "13th" explores the history of systemic racism against Black people throughout American history. (Image courtesy of Netflix)
Troy High School

Review: ’13th’ documentary reflects systematic racism against Black Americans

Protests have been raging across the nation demanding racial justice for George Floyd as well as a number of other victims of police brutality. In addition to this, people have recently celebrated Juneteenth, the day that marked the end of the practice of slavery in America. With these current events about racial injustice toward Black people, the term “systemic racism” has seen an exponential increase in usage. 

Director Ava DuVernay exemplifies what exactly this term has meant for the black community throughout American history in her documentary film “13th.” With all of the events that are occurring now, it is important for Americans to watch this film to understand systemic racism to a fuller extent and how that has shaped our nation. It is especially important to take heed of the film’s message — even more so today than when it was first released 4 years ago. 

DuVernay dives into how even after the Civil War, and even after the abolishment of slavery in the 13th amendment, the black community was still anything but free from oppression in America. In particular, a central theme of this film that DuVernay dives into was the criminality clause and how the line, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime” has led to mass incarceration as well as other forms of oppression for the black population throughout the history of the United States. 

Whether it was in the Jim Crow Laws, former President Ronald Reagan’s declaration of war on drugs, how ALEC corporations have interfered with the American justice system, the Black Lives Matter movement, or the story of 17-year old Trayvon Martin, DuVernay goes through it all. She takes the audience on a timeline throughout these events in American history, outlining how black people have since continued to be criminalized and oppressed. 

Watching the documentary, you are captivated as a harsher reality of American history unfolds before your eyes, as you listen to the discussions of expert interviewees. You are shown a number of jarring images and shocking statistics along with simple, yet powerful animations that all effectively contribute to telling the brutal story of racial injustice throughout America. By the time the film has rolled to the credits, Ava DuVernay has delivered to the audience a galvanizing message and a deeper insight regarding the racial injustice that black people in America continue to face today.