The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution reads as follows:
“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.”
On June 19, 1865 – now celebrated annually in the United States as ‘Juneteenth’ – the last remaining African Americans who had been enslaved under the Confederacy were emancipated.
This left the broken, Confederate-built economy of the South with a problem – there was no longer readily available labour, for free.
This led to the mass incarceration of African Americans throughout the United States, for “crimes” such as loitering, and essentially re-enslaved Black folk for one reason: they needed Black bodies back on the tools working for the economy.
Ava DuVernay lays out this generational display of systemic racism in its naked awfulness, peppering the film with incredible interviews with politicians, activists, academics and formerly incarcerated women. She lays down the timeline which has worked up to the America we know today, home to 25% of the world’s prisoners.
To bring it home, the archival footage used throughout the film is a testament to the events that plagued the lives of African Americans in the last century. At every corner, around every block, as these innocent folk went about their business, they were always wondering:
Am I next?
Ava DuVernay’s ‘13th’ is available to view now, on Netflix.