Ava DuVernay’s 13th Is The Only Recent Release You Absolutely, Definitely MUST See » VSB

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Ava DuVernay’s 13th Is The Only Recent Release You Absolutely, Definitely MUST See



Last week, Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th premiered on Netflix. The film documents America’s history of incarceration since the passing of the 13th Amendment and examines the political prowess that has precipitated our country’s prison industrial complex. It’s a visceral dissection of how slavery has evolved from a barbaric labor system to a privatized structure of extortion. Complete with archival footage, interviews with scholars, activists (a few formerly incarcerated), educators, politicians, and statistics, DuVernay provides a necessary narrative that is enlightening as much as it is infuriating. Here are a few of my thoughts:

1. Ava DuVernay Is A Shero

There’s no other way I can put this. Ava DuVernay is a gotdamn super(s)hero. There isn’t anything this woman can’t do, cinematically. I’ve been a fan of her since I stumbled across I Will Follow, and the care, intelligence, and craftsmanship DuVernay exercises in her films is awe inspiring. She understands when and how to evoke emotion, utilizing timely imagery, and dialogue to tell incredibly nuanced stories about Black people. Her treatment of 13th is no different with the finished product serving as a well-seasoned, knowledgeable observation of how our country continues to indomitably disenfranchise people of color courtesy of the very Amendment that secured our freedom.

2. This Is The Context To Black Lives Matter

One of the strongest attributes of this film is that it provides context to the ubiquitousness of police brutality within our country. Police abuse of power was not created in vacuum; it is a product of the system that employs it. Law enforcement is merely a fabric of a larger construct that is predicated on over criminalizing citizens who reside in impoverished neighborhoods; mainly people of color. The film provides pertinent information about how our Executive and Legislative branches of government effectively financed and incentivized municipal police forces to raid Black neighborhoods without cause, justification, or consequence by inciting fear with clever buzz words such as “Public Enemy Number One,” “Just Say No,” and “Super Predator.”

3. The Music Is Phenomenal

The soundtrack throughout the film is nothing short of amazing. Naturally, it’s mostly hip-hop, as rap music has a distinguished history of detailing the many transgressions of our justice system. From The Roots’ “Criminal”, Killer Mike’s “Reagan”, and Dead Prez’s “Behind Enemy Line” to Nas’ “Last Words” and Nina Simone’s “Work Song”, each track beautifully compliments the film’s central narrative. Common’s bars during the closing credits — presumably written just for the purpose of this documentary — serves as a catharsis to the film’s heavy subject matter.

4. Prison Isn’t Just A Place For Criminals, It’s Also For The Poor

While the film mostly investigates the racial biases that have shaped our country’s flawed penal system, it also addresses another prevalent issue: the vilification of innocent Black people. The most disturbing example is Kalief Browder, a Bronx teenager who was imprisoned without conviction for three years for allegedly stealing a backpack. During his incarnation, Kalief was put in solitary confinement and was routinely beaten, both by fellow inmates and guards tasked with protecting him. Upon his release, Crowder told his grim story before tragically taking his own life. The unnecessary trauma this young man endured is heart-wrenching. It’s a tragedy. But it’s all too common. Mainly because there are innocent people who don’t have enough money to fund their defense. Plus, with police exercising “Stop & Frisk” practices, and the emergence of mandatory minimums, too many people are pleading out for crimes they didn’t commit. Basically, it’s either you plead guilty because you don’t want to go away for the mandatory minimum, or you seek a trial and stay locked up because you can’t afford bail.

5. I Wish This Was A Series

When I watch or read information that I’m prone to agree with, I tend to become acquiescent about it. I frequently ask questions like, Am I exercising my own cognitive biases? or Did I find this compelling because it was factual (which it was) or because I’m Black (which I also am)? This stream of consciousness also leads me to conjure prospective arguments from those who are prone to oppose the information that I just absorbed — mainly, White people. One quarrel that I can easily anticipate is the “If Black people don’t want to go to prison maybe they shouldn’t commit crimes” argument. It’s similar to the assertion that “If Black people don’t want to get shot by police they should just submit to authority.”

I’m not going to waste time examining the “prisons are are still majority White” debate, because, well, that’s just dumb. Miss me with the bullshit. Thus, to completely eradicate this asinine claim I wish this documentary was apart of a series that included other films about how institutional racism has shaped our society. In this proposed series, I wish there existed a film that examined how discriminatory housing practices and predatory real estate developers effectively created “ghettos” and reasons why they occupy so much crime, such as the crippling economic decay, nutritional deficiency, and grossly underfunded school systems. That would be dope. And POWERFUL!!!

6. Bill Clinton Wasn’t Shit

Most of my childhood I frequently overheard adults state that Bill Clinton was one of the best Presidents for Black people in American history. I distinctly remember comedians across the country joking about about how Clinton was the closest thing to a Black President this country would ever see — before this smooth-talking brother from Hawaii came along — mostly because he played the saxophone and slept with an intern. But since I’ve grown old enough to know better I can’t imagine why someone would ever fix their mouth to say some shit like that. President Bill Clinton wasn’t great for Black folks. At all. Especially not after he passed the 1994 crime bill (or the 1996 welfare reform bill). He was a Conservative Democrat whose policies did little to help the advancement of African-Americans. The main reason many Black folks voted for President Clinton wasn’t out of admiration, but rather sheer desperation; African-Americans didn’t want four more years of a Republican regime that sought to disenfranchise them while White folks got rich. (Yay, capitalism!) Aside from appointing four Black Cabinet secretaries, staunchly supporting affirmative action, and befriending Vernon Jordan, I’m not sure Bill Clinton did much of anything else to help people of color.

7. Black Folks Should Really Be Paid Some Gotdamn Reparations

I’m not interested in after-the-fact apologies or inconsequential admissions of guilt. Y’all can keep that shit. The only remedy that would even come close to making this country whole (for the first time EVER) is to give reparations to Black folks for all the free labor our ancestors have provided to this nation’s economy. Seriously, just pay us. Or, at the very least, fund our pursuit of higher education, either trade schools or collegiate studies, by providing full scholarships to every Black student upon acceptance into the institution of their choice. Then, retroactively pay all student loans for Black students who have attended college. It doesn’t even matter if they graduated. If they got student loan debt, clear it. Period. It’s a long shot from properly compensating African-Americans for all the trauma we’ve endured for generations, but at least it’s a start.

8. Capitalism Is A Bitch

In what I’m sure will only aid conspiracy theorists’ claim in the existence of the Illuminati, 13th exposes the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative organization composed of lawmakers and corporations that seeks to push forward initiatives of its elite members. The organization, whose membership includes the likes of AT&T, FedEx, and ExxonMobil, is tasked with influencing, in some case outright writing, legislation for conservative politicians. It sounds as cynical as you think. It takes lobbying to a completely different level. And they’ve been around for more than 40 years. It’s a stunning example of why capitalism will always trump human rights.

9. We Now Have Another White Person With Cookout Privileges 

Kevin Gannon is the latest White person to be invited to Black barbecues everywhere. Namely because he’s woke as hell, acknowledges the existence of institutional racism, and its role in shaping our society. He joins Greg Popovich, Megan Rapinoe, and Ben & Jerry. Gon’ head and fix y’all some ribs and potato salad. (It’s cool. Aunt Rhonda made it.)

Morgan McDaniel

Morgan McDaniel is a freelance writer originally from Detroit, but lives in Atlanta because apparently that's where Black people are supposed to live out their dreams. When he's not devouring delicious food like it's in short supply or suffering through a Lions game, you can catch him in his feelings at flyerrrr.com.

  • Other_guy13

    I watched it…I totally agree….even Newt had me looking at him like he a new man…then I turned on the TV and saw him talking again. It’s such a well organized documentary and it hits every point perfectly. I need a series from this director….she did her thing.

  • Other_guy13

    ” He joins Greg Popovich, Megan Rapinoe, and Ben & Jerry. Gon’ head and fix y’all some ribs and potato salad.” Don’t forget King from VSB…he invited too

    • Charles Johnson

      Nope, I don’t give credit for anyone who states rationally the obvious

      • Val

        Right. I totally agree. So called woke White folks don’t get any extra credit for recognizing the truth. But we’ve lived with willfully ignorant White folks for so long I can understand the impetus behind giving them extra credit.

        • Kas

          How is acknowledging they are supportive of the cause equal to giving extra credit?

          • Val

            It’s like congratulating a father for looking after his kids. That’s what he should be doing so why are we congratulating him?

            • Kas

              I’ll spin it into a return question. As a child when you did well in school (which I’m sure you did), did your parents congratulate you or say nothing since it was what you were supposed to do?

              • Val

                Lol They actually didn’t congratulate me. The were hard azzes. They expected it and I got no accolades for doing what I was supposed to do.

                • Kas

                  My Dad didn’t either? How did that make you feel? Speaking for myself, I didn’t have a decent relationship with my father until well into 20’s.

                  • Val

                    Mmm, well, it’s complicated. We had other issues beside that.

                    • Kas

                      As did I and my Dad.

                    • YeaSoh

                      So I can’t tell what we decided – we are or we aren’t congratulating the woke wypipo?

                    • Kas

                      We concluded our parents were azzholes when we were children.

              • Doing well and doing exemplary are different though. Like Quakers vs John Brown.

              • L8Comer

                They said nothing lol. And if I got at 93 on a test they were def like where’d the other points go? Let’s go over the ones you got wrong so u don’t make the same mistake twice. I was expected to do well bc they knew what I was capable of

            • Sigma_Since 93

              Not a perfect analogy but I see where you are going with it.

            • I’m with you.. why should white folk get all sorts of praise for joining the rest of us in reality?.. We all human, why do they get a parade for acting like it?… Meh.. I will not be sharing my 7 up pound cake with them…they can get their own..

              • Val

                Lol Zactly.

        • Hibiscus???

          Keyword:Willfully. A choice they make.

          I see no impetus.

      • Sigma_Since 93

        I gotta give them SOME love. The funny part about stating the obvious is the blowback they all have or will receive for sating the obvious and doing what is right in the first place. I move that we create a Viola Davis badge, like in the Girl Scouts, and award it to Dwights that get it right. What say you VSB crew??

      • esa

        i think it cuts two ways: indoctrination of children begins very early, and they are rewarded for repeating lies. entire psychological identities of self, family, and country are built on disinformation. that’s no small thing to undo, especially if you have no inherent reason to believe that your people would lie to you. the truth is not inherently obvious to people who have had their brains washed and lack fundamental critical thinking skills as a result.

        that said, i believe that the conscience is the seat of the soul. those with a conscience (everyone excluding sociopaths) are always being given messages that their indoctrination was a scam that works against others, as well as themselves. it is always within their ability to do the work needed to discover the Truth.

        should they be credited for doing the work ? i believe the only requirement in this life is to validate one’s self. but i will absolutely acknowledge people who have done the work by honoring their legacy in a meaningful way.

  • #6 is a tad ahistorical. The 1994 Crime Bill was supported by large swathes of Black communities as a reaction to the crack epidemic that was still ravaging many Black neighborhoods. Lots of Black people (particularly older ones) where very law and order 20 years ago because of the conditions they were living in and I doubt many were expected the outcome in terms of policing and private prisons that came to pass. It wasn’t simply because Bill Clinton played the sax. Let’s not paint a cartoonish picture of Black voters now.

    • Charles Johnson

      That part true. The only option presented was either nothing or prison. Rehabilitation was an idealist farce that wouldn’t work. Hence the only option was jail. It’s funny how heroin is hurting suburban and rural white folk and they talkin bout rehab. Makes a ninja good hmmmm

      • We barely had physical rehabilitation much less mental or drug rehabilitation.

        • Blueberry01

          Physical rehabilitation as in physical therapy?

          • Yesh

            • Blueberry01

              So, are you saying that PT didn’t exist back then or black people didn’t have access to it?

              • For a wide variety of reasons we struggle to go to the hospital for obvious physical ailments much less something that may require extensive emotional/mental therapy.

                • Blueberry01


                  Oh, gotcha. ?

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      • truthseeker2436577@yahoo.com

        Great Point.

    • Negro Libre

      That’s been my primary criticism about the prison reform movement started by Michelle Alexander: there’s been calls for reform for a long time, and she’s done better than any other group to expose the logic behind how we reached where we are today. But there’s been several luxuries with historical facts, especially about examining the mindset of people at the time.

      Plus, this new modern way of arguing or discrediting the actions of others, whereby you deny the agency of your opponent by assuming that his/her positions are solely a product of media propaganda, is always inaccurate, as well as intellectually dishonest. How are we supposed to learn from history, if the only reason why we did wrong was because the rich and the media conspired to brainwash into submission?

      • Val

        But they did conspire to brainwash us.

        • Negro Libre

          I’ve been looking for a link to a video I saw a couple months ago on C-Span, featuring the real Joe Clark where he’s attending a roundtable about the 1994 crime bill and the many obstacles pushed for mainly by civil liberty unions against them at the time, precisely about how the standard of posse comitatus was making it difficult to arrest criminals.

          I’m not saying that I agree with his point, but the fact is that people did in fact think about this, and people did in fact challenge certain things. To just say, oh, hey we were all just brainwashed, makes it easy to dismiss every basic fact of that would show that it was otherwise, or at least show decisions made in the past were far more complex.

          It’s easy to dismiss the present, past and future, and the real human beings who lived during that time, if you’re just going to conclude that everything people do, collectively, is nothing more than the result of what they were propagated to do.

          • Val

            I’m not saying folks were mindless drones, I’m saying the prevailing winds were blowing in a particular direction at the time and many sailed with them. And part of the reason those winds blew as they did was because of a media narrative about Black folks and poor Black folks in particular.

            I mean, the vast majority of Black folks didn’t live in crime and drug infested neighborhoods, so where do you think they got a large portion of their info about those communities?

          • pleasestop

            I’m in Harlem and when I first moved here. Tons of locals said they saw police officers kidnapping people and shooting them up with drugs. Chicago has a huge issue with people being picked up and tortured and released. I have heard that form lawyers who work for courthouses. Nothing ever happens. Were some people reckless addicts who did it to themselves? Yes. Where other people drugged? What about China not wanting opium from the UK? They pointed guns at them and told them they had to purchase it. Capitalism is a huge driving force in these issues. And History repeats itself. So many areas didn’t have drugs, until the US invades them. How does that keep happening? It’s money.

      • NonyaB?

        It’s the phenomenon of the 3rd iris at work.

    • Digital_Underground

      On point. The traumatic impact crack had on many Black communities is often forgotten when this comes up. Yes, Black people did advocate for tougher crime legislation. They also watched their neighborhoods turn into war zones over night due to crack and its effects. They made the mistake of actually believing their duly elected government would actually serve them. They didn’t realize new criminal legislation was going to criminalize their entire communities.

    • pls

      All of that was mentioned in the doc and presented as the incentive for the bill, but lawmakers fully intended to exploit it from day one.

    • Leggy

      I think people forget this. That’s what makes me hit my head on the wall when this comes up! This bill was overwhelmingly supported by black people. Yes, nobody knew how this bill was going to affect black people but let’s not pretend like we didn’t think it was going to be good for the communities that were being ravaged by crack. We cannot rewrite history now. We can’t.

    • Trill Mickelson

      Even this isn’t entirely true. Elizabeth Hinton has written a few things about this. Black people supported addressing crime — and not necessarily to the draconian extent proposed by that bill — along with, not in lieu of, investing in drug treatment programs and early intervention programs. We only got one part of that.

      Edit: here’s a recent article about this. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/13/opinion/did-blacks-really-endorse-the-1994-crime-bill.html?_r=1

      • He said large swaths. He didn’t say every Black person. There were some Black people who spoke up about it, and they did get a few concessions thrown their way in terms of social programs. Still, a lot of Black people were with it.

    • Furious Styles

      Lots of Black people (particularly older ones) where very law and order 20 years ago because of the conditions they were living in …

      RIIIght. I remember when you were considered “woke” (we didn’t call it that then) if you passionately spoke against black-on-black crime. The stances of our leadership and the outcomes were definitely a case study in groupthink.

    • Betty’s Babygirl

      We’ve been down this road before. The article about why black people weren’t feeling the Bern. I was an adult during the Clinton years and also a discriminating voter on all levels. Not all Resilients felt harsher laws were the answer. This was my post then and I stand by it now:

      At the time I viewed it as directed primarily at POC since crack was ravaging/being sold and used by us. The law specifically set mandatory sentencing for CRACK not for cocaine. The law didn’t rid cities and towns from dealers/buyers. Nor victims of crime perpetrated by crackheads or babies being born addicted. The law did serve the purpose of filling prisons and stripping POC of their voting rights as convicted felons.
      And as for the CBC they do not represent the opinion of all black people. They’re politicians and will do what’s in their best interest. Case in point, the Political Action members of the CBC endorsed HRC. I’m sure not ALL black people are supporters of HRC or are democrats.

      • That’s fair. I was just responding to the insinuation that Black people were all entirely hoodwinked by the the push for the Bill as if there weren’t large groups of voters as well as groups that weren’t behind it who were/are Black and were aware (to various extents) what the intent was.

        • Betty’s Babygirl

          It’s all good. Believe it or not there’s always been a significant contingency of “woke” Resilients. I was blessed to be raised by two of them.

  • United_Dreamer

    I’m gathering my resolve to watch this one.

  • Brooklyn_Bruin

    ” I Wish This Was A Series”

    Not me brougham.

    That’s like asking me if I want to read more slave narratives.

  • Val

    I just hope this will be shown in high school classrooms around the country and on college campuses.

  • RaeNBow

    as the montages kept rolling, i couldn’t help but think WHERE was the outcry from people like my parents while all of this was going on? I mean, the fact that Black people bought into this narrative so heavily is damm baffling. I mean, the way the word “Super Predators” was said with such disdain, and the absolute lack of truth behind it? and NO ONE call BS? i’m legit looking at my “elders” a bit differently.

    But i guess it was all gravy cause the economy was booming so they didn’t want to rock the boat? Now that people (Black people and millennials especially) are so grossly underpaid these days, I guess they don’t fear lack of economic security as a push-back for speaking up because most aren’t economically secure anyway. ugh.

    • Val

      It was a lot easier for politicians to frame false narratives in the time before social media. Now that crime bill would be torn to shrews by folks online. Then there was no mass way for us to communicate with each other about it.

    • Damon Young

      honestly — re the super predator thing in the 80s/90s — you have to consider that gang/crack-related violence was waaaaaaaaaay worse then than it is now. and it was new and scaring the f*ck out of everyone. so people (even many Black people) were willing to do whatever it took to get more people behind bars. even if that meant co-signing terrible sh*t.

      • Kas


      • Digital_Underground

        Yes. I’m amazed people forget this. Much is said about the current situation of gun violence in Chicago. I tell my younger family members that early 90’s LA, New York, Chicago, and Oakland were worse statistically speaking. The crack era was a terrible time in American history and wreaked major havoc on Black communities.

      • Cheech

        And for whites who werent moved by that, there was the tragic cocaine-induced death of Len Bias.

      • I get that because I lived through the era. Still, how come no one stopped to think “gee, we might have F-ed up somewhere. Maybe we should stop.”

      • fedup

        I don’t know about the “behind bars” though. I think Black people just wanted the drugs, crime and violence out of their neighborhoods, away from their families. I believe if a humane, workable solution had been posed to the masses (like the solutions now being posed to address the opioid/heroin “epidemic” sweeping across white middle America) to the crack epidemic, INSTEAD of the solution that was sold to them, Black America would have been on that. They went along with the crime bill because it was a solution, and the only solution that got the type of attention necessary to reach into the homes of masses of people.

        Kinda like how the PPAACA (what became the ACA, also known as Obamacare) was the solution for healthcare that rose to the top enough to get widespread media coverage, despite the fact that there were many other bills put on the table to address the same issue (not talking about whether they were good or bad, Just that they existed). People did what they thought was best at the time; i don’t think it’s fair to now judge them through history’s lens.

    • esa

      on this day in 1982, Ronald Reagan launched the “War on Drugs” working both sides of the fence to increase both the military and the prison industrial complex. his administration put crack on the streets of black and Latino communities, exclusively. it was a plague the likes of which have never been seen (besides AIDS, which is another story).

      crack hit the streets after more than a decade of “benign neglect” where the federal government cut off funding for basic services, creating Third World conditions in black and Latino communities. an entire generation was lost to drugs, violence, and jail. neighborhoods that were already decimated were turned into war zones.

      the people who called BS were labelled “conspiracy theorists”just the same as they are now. i dont think people didnt want to rock the boat because the economy came up in the late 90s so much as i think people were suffering from decades of PTSD.

      • Val

        Totally agree with your comment except wasn’t it Richard Nixon who started the war on drugs?

        • esa

          yes, true Nixon started using the phrase as rhetoric, like “Law and Order,” so that he could go after black folk and white radicals covertly. Reagan started the “War on Drugs,” taking it to Congress as a matter of policy.

        • Cheech

          Yup. With the 1970 crime bill.

          (And before he died, Ehrlichman admitted it was simply an effort to demonize and disenfranchise the poor and the Black, and they knew it at the time.)

      • RaeNBow

        decades of PTSD. now that, i can certainly understand. *sigh*

    • Hugh Akston

      Good point but I think looking back in history there were plenty of voices crying over this issue and warning about what may come…it just most people didn’t care they wanted results right then and there without much reflection on the consequences..so those minority voices were shut down or ignored

    • There were two different things going on. One is that some people just straight left and chucked deuces to the hood. They didn’t give a F because they were able to leave. The rest were Black middle class people who were trapped due to redlining and wanted to make their neighborhoods like the ones they wanted to escape to through the power of the State. Once I started doing my homework, while not every Black leader fell in thrall to the BS, a great number of them did.

  • ~*V. von Schweetz*~

    I’ve felt the same about the idea of a film about housing and real estate for years! This needs to happen.

    I lived everything about 13th, especially the Clinton years. My mama always said there’s no way a white boy from Hope, Arkansas is gon do what’s best for black folk.

    • Kas

      Both sides of my family are from Ark, do I didn’t grow up there. My Dad would wholeheartedly agree with your Mom.

    • Val

      Yep, the housing thing in the form of redlining and on the other side the interest free veterans loans for them after World War 2 have a lot to do with the wealth disparities we see now in this country.

  • fedup

    FINALLY! I’ve been waiting for this post so I can Disqus wit mah peeples.

    #1 – This documentary was very well done. Kudos to Ms. Duvernay for bringing life not only to Michele Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” (also read that), but to the long time protestations of most Black folk on just one of ways that racism is structured to keep Black folk in a perpetual state of slavery.

    #2 – Love how clearly the film (as does the book) outlines the “dog whistle” rhetoric used by politicians to whip wypipo into a frenzy against Black people. Now, I realize that it doesn’t take much for that true nature to come out, but we have to call out racism in all of it’s forms: “If Hillary Clinton is elected, WE are going to lose OUR country” “WE have to restore law and order”…

    #3 – Can I get an Amen to the brilliant use of hip-hop in the film?

    Ok, gonna stop here cause I could go on and on. I’m watchin it again this weekend. Tell the truth and shame the devil!

    • Val

      +1 on Michelle Alexander. She’s been tireless in her call for prison reform and in calling out the entire Prison Industrial Complex.

      • DreamDeferred

        Michelle Alexander needs to championed more by us. We need people like her in a position to write laws, at least on a state level.

        • L8Comer

          Isn’t she a lawyer?

          • Val


          • Trill Mickelson

            She teaches (actually, just retired from teaching) at Ohio State’s law school. Just had to rep for my alma mater real quick.

      • fedup

        Yes Ma’am. And she goes deep into the laws created structural evolution of how the court system operates to keep poor and people of color (mostly Black people) shackled in the criminal justice system.

  • Brooklyn_Bruin

    *Hotep mode on*

    Love to see a successful black revolution story. Got to be at least one decent post colonial success story.

    That L side is deep, I want to get an unambiguous W, for once.

    • Quilombo?? Researching Palmares is fascinating.

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