A.V. Club

Movie Review: Ava DuVernay’s vital 13th links the prison to the plantation

Any social-issues documentary worth a damn has at least one moment—one statistic, one anecdote, one archival snippet—destined to boil the blood of its audience. But in 13th, the new nonfiction film from Selma director Ava DuVernay, those agitating moments keep coming and coming, one after another, creating a blitzkrieg of outrage. The title refers to the 13th Amendment, which officially abolished slavery in 1865, “except as a punishment for crime.” The film argues that this particular choice of words became a free-labor loophole in the South, creating incentive to lock up black men on minor charges and to paint them as inherently criminal. That may seem like a cut-and-dry thesis, but over the course of just an hour and 40 minutes, 13th tackles the war on drugs, the Central Park Five, Jim Crow, Willie Horton, police shootings, mandatory minimum sentences, The Birth Of A Nation (no, not that …

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