13th (2016)

8.2
  • TV-MA
  • Genre: Crime
  • Release year: 2016 (2016-10-07)
  • Running time: 100 min
  • Original Title: 13th
  • Voted: 20501
13th is a movie starring Melina Abdullah, Michelle Alexander, and Cory Booker. An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation's history of racial inequality.
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  • Interesting points and questions, but incomplete 12/30/2016 12:00:00 AM by demented_peruvian 7

    It appears that all reviews of this documentary are in turn reviewed by where people stand politically. I'll side-step that by analyzing this as a film lover who is multi-ethnic and has studied criminology and has worked for many years in the behavioral health system, including rehabilitation and diversion of people entering the judicial system, of all races and social classes. And so it goes...

    "13th" or "The 13th" does well in cinematic sense with an interesting photography of the subjects it interviews, and very effective editing. Its juxtapositions of past and present work well for film purposes, although some may object to the sociopolitical comparisons. What was ineffective and annoying was the use of sudden words quite often going into the screen, including the occasional song lyric, not all of which felt like it matched. It often felt like it was there to pad time, which is odd given the wide range of subjects that were interviewed who likely had more to say. That stole from the experience for me, akin to complaints that I've read others make of other documentaries that have done this, e.g. "Nico Icon". As a whole, the narrative starts off potent but loses some traction about 2/3rds through, similar to how I felt about DuVernay's "Selma".

    From the criminal justice and political aspect, "13th" does best when it sticks to its thesis: that politicians created a system of mass incarceration for dubious reasons, which are rooted in racism and intentional disenfranchisement, and which is possibly influenced by businesses that make a profit from running prisons and using prisoners as a cheap or free workforce. Yes, it is a long run-on sentence, but that's the thesis. It supports itself well when analyzing politics, and the intentional and unintentional consequences. It alternates between stating one side of a debate as fact (e.g. whether Woodrow Wilson endorsed "Birth of a Nation") and having people who represent both sides of the debate. Regardless, it achieves its effect of a plausible theory, while eliciting horror, anger, and disgust. It is less well supported when exploring the link of current companies that stand to gain from imprisonment. They clearly document that they lobby to expand their business opportunities, including some highly questionable attempts and an inappropriate role in writing laws, but it's less clear that they are a driving force behind the incarcerations. It doesn't help when they use some gross generalizations, e.g. that Aramark sells rotten food. I've seen Aramark serve their generic, fattening cafeteria food to dozens of institutions, and it is never rotten, as in those two awful instances. However, DuVernay does raise an effective alert of a potential threat, that at the very least leaves us questioning the role of commercialization/privatization of the criminal justice system.

    She is less successful when she goes off course into tying in Black Lives Matter; it didn't really fit the main narrative, but more of a sub-narrative of law and order being altered by racism. This deserves a larger, longer, more careful focus, as it brings in much debated situations that are too recent, some brought in too briefly. "OJ: Made in America" addresses this sub-topic better, using a greater length.

    But as much as DuVernay puts into the film to explore how incarcerations increased, she misses many factors. Racism, explosion in population in the post-war era, political machinations, and introduction of drugs and drug laws are all mentioned. She somehow leaves out the increase in availability in firearms, the development of gangs (ironic, as the Bloods and the Mara Salvatrucha started in US prisons), and a sharp increase in a pro-crime, narcissistic sub-cultures. This is not limited to one racial/ethnic group or socioeconomic group, nor is it recent. But 90s-on gangsta culture has driven in hard a message that life is short; you need to blow massive amounts of money in narcissistic displays of it; that decent jobs will not get you there, that stealing, dealing, grifting and boosting are the only ways; that going to prison is good and inevitable; and that the slightest challenge to your being the center of the universe should be responded to with violence. This culture, when it is bought into by anyone of any group, is the hardest thing to deal with when trying to rehabilitate someone, second only to an abusive family. And I've seen it with white kids from wealthy families, 2nd generation Latinos with hardworking parents with different values and culture, African-American kids with extremely hardworking parents who reject this message, and adults who should know much better. And it is now being exported overseas, with the same result of increased incarceration and police violence. Why skip this? Why not question it as well? DuVernay's thesis suggests that almost everyone in the criminal justice system are only there because of petty drug charges, but she fails to test the null hypothesis. While this is true of a segment of prisoners, it does not apply to all. I bring it up because more than half of felons and people otherwise with repeat criminal justice involvement that I have encountered (of all races) have charges for multiple crimes; it is not just simple possession, or dealing small amounts of lesser drugs, but additional crimes such as those around theft, sudden acts of aggression, forgery, or driving while intoxicated. Are African Americans more exposed to drug crime in general, due to the same factors she lists? And what are the alternatives to incarceration? DuVernay also regrettably skips probing rehabilitation and probation, other than to briefly question the latter as over-done and possibly driven by profit.

    In sum, good for discussion of political issues, but not comprehensive in criminology issues.

  • Systemic connections - a brilliant, muckraking, heartbreaking look at America 10/8/2016 12:00:00 AM by Quinoa1984 10

    It's not enough to look at one thing to analyze what is wrong with it, is a key point that may get overlooked (or simply not exactly the focus, but between the lines) in Ava DuVernay's powerful indictment of an entire society. When you look at the systemic issues of racism in this country, slavery is the key thing, and the title refers to the 13th amendment to the constitution (need a cinematic reference point, see Spielberg's Lincoln for more), and how one small line in the amendment referring to how slavery is outlawed except, kinda, sorta, for criminals, is paramount in how black people and bodies have been treated in the 150 years since the end of the Civil War.

    Because at extremely crucial times in history, like right after the signing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, black people were not in positions of power or government or, of course, in business (as this doc goes very in depth on), figures who spouted 'Law and Order' and "War on Drugs" made life not a matter of inconvenience or difficult for blacks, it was more like a refitting or metamorphosis of the sort of principle that went into slavery - keep everyone repressed and afraid, and if they get out of line they have to work and work for no wages and have little rights - into the modern age. Anyone can look up the statistics about how high the prison incarceration rates have gone up over the past 45 years (this despite the fact that, at least since the 1990's, crime rates have gone down generally speaking nationwide), and particularly for African Americans the struggle is that, well, 1 out of 3 black men will go to prison in their lifetimes (vs how much smaller that ratio is for whites).

    DuVernay's film is a mix of a variety of talking heads, muckraking information that might be out of a Michael Moore film about things like the ALEC company and the like who formulate actual legislation that is pro-for-profit prisons, and footage from the likes of Nixon and Reagan's most damning points looking "Presidential" while distorting the truth (and the even more damning points from their advisers caught on tape how they actually were going about specifically going after minorities as "threats" to the system). Constantly here, the thing is, nothing is in a vacuum. What we see from The Birth of a Nation by Griffith (incidentally I saw this doc mere hours after seeing Parker's new film, so this almost picks up where he left off), was that there actually was a film that one can say really did inspire people to commit acts of violence: hyping up the KKK to become a dominant force after years of being dormant and unpopular, by painting blacks as the "savages" that will come and rape and pillage your precious whites.

    So much in that film may seem awful and hateful now, but also these sorts of images continue to be perpetuated, is what DuVernay is saying, and things are interconnected all the time; what happened with the Central Park Five in 1989; Willie Horton; Bill Clinton's crime bill; Mandatory Mininums; Trayvon Martin and Ferguson; all of these companies making bills for politicians that they can literally *fill in the blank* with their state name, which calls to question what a country is if corporations are writing bills. There's so much to unpack in the film, but as a director DuVernay keeps things moving at a pace that is electrifying but also never hard to take in. I'd want to watch this again more-so to admire the touches of filmmaking, all of the text pieces she puts up to accompany song transitions (Public Enemy for one), than even to take in pieces of information she puts out.

    Also fascinating is how she puts the variety of talking heads here: we get people like Charlie Rangel (who was once very tough on crime and regrets it today) and mayor David Dinkins and Cory Booker and Angela Davis, but we also get to see Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist and a sort of spokesman for one of these ALEC type of companies (I forget his name). Having them juxtaposed with figures who have seen how awful this country has treated people of color in the justice system with drug laws that are meant to make criminal (that's a word that comes back again and again) makes for a viewing experience that can be startling but it keeps you on your toes. Will they possibly say something reasonable or reprehensible? Some watching it may not even know who Norquist is - I should think DuVernay made this film to last, not just for the 2016 year, albeit clips from Clinton and Trump, the latter some of the explosive racist moments at his campaign stops in the crowds, make it timely - but it shouldn't matter too much.

    13th gives you a massive amount of facts and statistics, but it's never a lecture, and if it's a plea it's that people should realize real reforms don't or really can't happen overnight. Minds and attitudes need to change on a more fundamental level, where *centuries* of oppression have kept metastasizing like a cancer. And at the center of it is DuVernay creating a conversation and narrative that inspires a great many emotions, mostly sadness and anger, but is just as palpable as in her film Selma. A must-see.

  • Important documentary 10/7/2016 12:00:00 AM by airborne_trooper 10

    This documentary shines a very bright light on two fundamental issues going on in our country. The power of money and it's influence on profitable incarceration and ultimately perpetual slavery. I think it did a fabulous job of being virtually opinion free and making a point to stay focused on facts. That said, I think you have to be open to the information. By that, whether you lean right or left, it's best to digest this documentary with an open mind free of your own political thoughts and opinions.

    It's foundation is about slavery and how it plays a role in modern events. It suggests that slavery never went away, it merely reinvented itself to "keep up with the times", always having financial gain being the catalyst for it's continued existence. It really shines when it presents it's case on how mass incarceration is today's slavery. The direct correlation between labor based slavery of yesteryear and labor based incarceration of today is frightening in regards to similarity. You can deny it if you choose to, but if you continue to do so after seeing this presentation, then it's simply because you deny fact.

    When Colin Kaepernick protested the flag, though I'm a black man, I was offended by his stance. After watching this documentary however, I look at his point of view with a different lens. I don't entirely agree with his approach, but I have to admit that oppression in this country is still very alive and well. I think too many people look at oppression in traditional views like slavery and the holocaust. But in my opinion, you have to appreciate oppression as the complexity that it is, in order to acknowledge it's existence. Again this documentary does an excellent job of making that case. I won't delve too deep into why, I would just simply recommend watching it.

    Word of caution however. This documentary doesn't pull it's punches. It's very dark, very disconcerting regarding politics and if it hits you right, it will make you angry and sad all at once. My two children stayed in the forefront of my mind while watching this, and my heart bled for them throughout, seeing what kind of world that awaits them. I tried to be optimistic about light being brought to this issue in such a well put together way, but I believe that we as a country, still have a ways to go, seeing that someone like Trump could get so close to being President.

    Overall, this documentary is very important and should be seen by everyone able. Whether you lean right or left, you cannot deny some of the dirty deals made by politicians to keep their pockets lined via profitable incarceration. Real change needs to happen without question, but this documentary drives home the point that as long as "the almighty dollar" rules, don't expect much change anytime soon.

  • In response 10/8/2016 12:00:00 AM by akaj95 10

    There is something to be said of a person who does not know when to stop and listen a message that has left them in the past. I watched this film and cried because I have spent my adult life keeping myself and my children out of the "system". I have spent teaching my children that they are more than what white society is trying to pin on them. To read a review that basically regurgitates all of the right leaning rhetoric that, if they watched the film, started at the very beginning of slavery. The US was/is built on the backs of other races that the US has no intention acknowledge. The history that is taught in the US not only white washes (pun intended) but also teaches to have pride in a misrepresented history. To find out what contributions brown and black people made to this country is an elective in college that most white Americans will never even glance at. So to say that this film is one sided...yes it is but white America has had it one sided for over 400 years with all the strength, weight, industrial, and political power at its disposal. SO, go a look at the history from a perspective other than Rush Limbaugh and the like. You just might finally understand that brown and black lives are not a tool for whites to use at a whim but humans that have the RIGHT to be treated the same......

  • I stand in amazement 10/11/2016 12:00:00 AM by shaunemmons 10

    The documentary is an excellent summary of American History. To a larger degree it is important to address some of the comments made. I find several people's comments such as, "don't do the crime, if you can't do the time" indicative of the very systemic racism that was the impetus for the need of such a piece. The comments are very telling and actually say more about the people writing them than do their intentions to demean the documentary by leaving negative reviews.

    The fact that people can disregard this for the myriad of completely shallow reasons such as, "I stopped watching when I realized it was against Trump and for Hillary" is laughable. The reality is that you don't want to accept America's REAL history. The documentary was well over an hour and the section about the presidential race was a minute fraction of that.

    Again, shallow reasons such as this speak volumes about the people leaving them. America's history is what it is. None of us are proud of these particular aspects or at least you shouldn't be but in an effort to get better we must first accept the truth. This is the truth. Acceptance is the first step towards getting better. It is so not about Trump or Hillary. I almost don't think you actually watched because no reasonably intelligent person would dismiss the piece as you guys did for the reasons you chose.

#PersonCrew
1Hans Charlescinematographer
2Kira Kellycinematographer
3Jason Morancomposer
4Ava DuVernaydirector
5Howard Barishproducer
6Melina Abdullahself
7Michelle Alexanderself
8Cory Bookerself
9Dolores Canalesself
10Spencer Averickwriter