Ava DuVernay tackles racial division in America and the disproportionate incarceration of African-American men in her new Netflix documentary, “13th.”
“It’s deeply embedded in the fabric of America. The first step to combat it is to know that it exists.” DuVernay told CNN. “That’s my hope with the ‘13th.’ Not that it produces some legislation or instigates some kind of protest, but that it allows people to have a revolution within about what we think about this issue and be forward thinking about how we approach it from now on.”
DuVernay’s documentary traces incarceration in America from the abolition of slavery and the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865, to today’s mass prison populations.
“I’ve always had the story in my heart, in my mind,” DuVernay said. “I grew up in Compton, an environment in which I was constantly surrounded by very robust police presence. The criminal justice system was not a term, it was something I lived every day.”
Through archival footage and interviews, the film explores connections between some political rhetoric and incarceration rates.
One scene features Richard Nixon campaigning for president in 1968 repeating the phrase “law and order” – a phrase also invoked by Donald Trump throughout his current campaign. (Hillary Clinton’s advocacy of the 1994 crime bill, which her husband signed into law as president and has since disavowed, is also shown in the film.)
“It’s not new. Scare tactics, violent rhetoric has been constantly used. The black body has been constantly used for political gain to make people afraid, so that someone else can gain and profit,” DuVernay told CNN.
“[’13th’ is] coming out at a time where it might provide some foundational knowledge for folks as we really make demands of our candidates to go beyond Twitter beefs and get into the real issues that affect our everyday lives,” she said.
“13th” premieres on Netflix October 7.