It’s astonishing in its effectiveness. Is “13TH” the best documentary of the year? Maybe. One thing is for certain–filmmaker Ava DuVernay has fulfilled the promise that she made with “Selma” a couple of years back. I wanted to LOVE “Selma”. Honestly. But I couldn’t. It had its moments, but it simply came off as another earnest, middlebrow, not-very-exciting chronicle of a touchstone period for race relations in the U.S.A. Some of the acting was wonderful–especially David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. Plus, the eventual Oscar-winning Best Original Song “Glory”, had all of the passion mixed with anger that I wished the film possessed. Well, I’m here to tell you that Ms. DuVernay has served it up now. Was this her plan all along? Kind of “sucker them in”, and then “blast ’em”? I wonder. Because I’m of the opinion that “Selma” is safely calibrated for white people’s digestion. “13TH”, on the other hand, is decidedly NOT. Bravo.
“13TH” is angry and impassioned and vital. I was struck by how many things it said that I already knew, but how it still drilled itself into my core. This stuff needs to be repeated over and over and over again. Will it help? Just a little at a time, I’m afraid. But we have to just keep chipping away at prejudice and outright racism. What other choice is there? Too many white folks simply don’t recognize how much it’s still there. I know…because I’m a white guy. I hear what they say when black people are out of the room…and sometimes when they’re still in the room. It’s what white privilege is. They deny it. They ignore it. It doesn’t effect them…so they don’t care. We’ve got to eliminate that shit! Patience is required, while we rapidly run out of patience. I’VE run out of patience! The movement is too damn slow. Yes, this is already more rant, than review. I’m angry, because I get why people are angry. Too many don’t.
“13TH” is not all anger. It is 100 minutes of a collection of intelligent African-Americans discussing their plight. Some are scholars, others are controversial, some are politicians, a few are the formerly wrongly imprisoned. “13TH” focuses on the United States criminal justice system, and how it became a replacement form of slavery. It rails against mass incarceration of black people, and takes you step-by-step and decade through decade as to how this happened. Some of the footage shown is sickening and infuriating. We see Emmett Till in his casket. We watch attack dogs and fire hoses set upon children. We get clips of the Presidents and candidates that set this tone. Nixon and Reagan are obvious, but Bill and Hillary Clinton are hardly spared. And then there is the rise of the sickening Donald Trump. That’s given to us too, in all its ugliness, and bigotry and sexism. He must lose next month. One of my barometers after viewing a fine documentary, is how much of a thirst I have for more, after the credits roll. I wanted this to run for ten hours. “13TH” is one of the best films of 2016.