Review of the Netflix original 13th written and directed by Ava DuVernay
I’ve been covering the broken criminal justice system on this site for a while. You can find many reviews of books on the subject here. But film has a way of condensing complex issues and making them easier to grasp. Such is the case with this excellent Netflix original documentary. The film covers all of the main issues: mass incarceration, prison overpopulation, mandatory sentencing, racial inequality, debtors prison, three strikes, the 85% rule, etc. But it also covers issues I was unaware of such as forced prison labor and the politicization of the criminal justice system by an organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
In less than two hours the film walks the viewer from slavery to our current status as the most incarcerated nation in the world. Along the way the filmmakers draw comparison’s to the civil rights issues of the 60s with the current political climate. If you were to look for a single origin to the problem, you need look no further than Washington. President after president, Republican and Democrat, all contributed to the problem through regulations and a shortsighted view on criminal justice. Republican Presidents starting with Nixon were perhaps the biggest reasons we are where we are. But Bill Clinton, who now acknowledges his mistake, added to the problem with his three strikes and your out policies along with mandatory sentencing.
Perhaps the biggest revelation to me was the role that the organization ALEC has played in benefiting from mass incarceration. One of the better scenes in the film involves the juxtaposition of an ALEC spokesman denying every accusation against the organization along with commentators describing in detail how ALEC has and continues to benefit from the criminal justice system.
My only complaint deals with a section of the film dealing with the Travon Martin case. The filmmakers use it as an example of Stand Your Ground regulations. The problem is that the Travon Martin case was tried as a self defense case and not a stand your ground case.
This is a smart, detailed examination of the many problems this country is now facing. Watch it.