Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Ava DuVernay
Featuring: Jelani Cobb, Angela Davis, and Henry Louis Gates
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
This latest documentary to be available on Netflix from acclaimed director Ava DuVernay, whose credits include the powerful Martin Luther King film “Selma” (2014), has chosen to address the excessive amount of African American men incarcerated in US gaols. The documentary analyses how this has come about, examining decade by decade the increase in prison populations, initially examining the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution.
This is a film with much to unpack on just an intellectual level, and if you have been around for a while parts of this documentary will be all too familiar, and unfortunately as New Zealanders we see much of the same consequences of successive governments permeating crappy legislation in our own country. So, this is a vital, timely and relevant document of a place and time in the world today.
This documentary uses footage from early 20th century films and borrows heavily from D. W. Griffiths “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) as a way to illustrate how African Americans were viewed by the wider public and how this film influenced the way African-Americans were treated as well as how this has remained right up to the present day. We are shown how, with every gain African Americans have made in the US how the laws, including those of incarceration, have repeatedly denied them their rights. In the 1980’s it was mandatory minimums, in the 1990s it was increased sentencing laws and now we see many young black unarmed men being murdered by police with little or no consequence.
The film uses real footage from murders, interview footage, movie footage and anything else to highlight the fact that the problem is staring us in the face, but no one wants to do anything about it. It is a war that is being lost and young people are paying the price with their very existence.
Throughout the film there are a mixture of academics, activists and victims who articulate the issues that are being faced by not only African Americans but everybody in the US – there are in fact not many groups not effected by these issues – and of course this election cycle is mentioned. There is an affecting section of the film where we see African Americans at a Trump rally that are being treated just like African Americans in the South at the beginning of the last century – you will find it hard not to shed tears at just how little has changed over the past hundred years.
If you have Netflix then this should be the next film you watch and if you don’t have Netflix get it and watch it – it is heartbreaking and there is no fiction that is sadder and you will want to talk about it and take action.
If you enjoyed this film then watch:
“Do the right thing” (1988)
“Boyz in the Hood” (1991)
“The Birth of a Nation” (2016)