Review : 13th


13th is a 2016 documentary from Netflix studios, that looks into the linkages that run from slavery in the US in the 1800’s through to the existing mass incarceration that exists today.

Directed by Ava DuVernay the film includes input from a number of leading voices for equal rights, and justice from the US, with further input from former US politicians. The film’s title comes from the 13th amendment which outlawed slavery and ensured freedom for all, yet added a clause that limited this as punishment for a crime.

The film begins with the transition from the original slavery that ended after the Civil War, and runs from there into the creation of the chain gangs and mandated workers that were forced to effectively rebuild the economy of the South.

From there, the move to segregation, and then, after the civil rights movement, the move in the 1970’s that began to see fear and drugs both used to increase prison volumes to win political power in southern states.


The film moves all of the way to current day with the now incredible levels of incarceration in the US, that with only 5% of the world’s population, has 25% of the world’s prisoners.

For what I was expecting was a documentary about prisons, it caught me off guard as what is a moving analysis into race in the US and specifically the means with which successive generations of african-americans have faced similar challenges through different means.

This is exacerbated by what seems to have now become a near industrial machine within the prison services in terms of large scale business involvement with huge financial gains to be made.  Effectively the film links today’s mass incarceration to the original situation of slavery.

It is a moving pieces of work, and leaves you with a real sense of injustice about the current situation, and the need for reforms. I should add at this point, that there are moments in the film which sees real footage being used that are shocking but the context for their usage is discussed prior, and they are an important part of the film’s message.

It is an important reflection of a troubling situation with a powerful message that should be watched. It has been nominated for an Oscar and BAFTA for best documentary and may well do very well.


That’s what I thought – what about you? Have you seen it? Comment below and share your thoughts…


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