TV-MA. The content is rough. There's nudity. It's just brutal as a whole. But again, it has content that needs to be discussed.
DIRECTOR: Ava DuVernay
I hate what politics has done to me. I'm going to turn a film blog that I make my students do and turn it into a confession that my understanding of American politics has legitimately depressed me. Right now, there are Christmas carols playing. I'm in view of a Christmas tree while my wife's family is enjoying a lovely cake that I can't eat. And I'm going to be writing about the structure of a Black Lives Matter documentary. My son started crying. Geez, that kid is empathic.
If you read my Zootopia review, you know my stance on Black Lives Matter. This is a pivotal point in history and a group of people are begging for everyone's help right now and it is a crime to ignore them. This movie brings together the historical perspective on the hidden racism in America since abolition. And it is absolutely horrifying and needs to be told. But then comes the problem with documentaries that have a goal: they aren't allowed to be objective because they have a goal to achieve. When I teach persuasive writing, I warn kids about riding the fence when it comes to arguing. It can only weaken the arguement and if the goal is as imporant as the one that is highlighted in 13th, riding the fence is a dangerous game. Let's discuss the central premise that the War on Drugs is really institutionalized racism.
Is there institutionalized racism? Yeah, I see that. In fact, it is in way more places than the War on Drugs / Crime. Mostly the arguement presented in this movie is pretty correct. It's absolutely horrifying to think that the policing of minorities is a tool used by the government to gain favor from voters and outsource jobs to institutions and groups who profit from this movement. I think my jaw dropped so hard listening to how much sense was being made that I just got even more depressed. (I started this review one day and am ending it another day. I'm less depressed.) But going back to maintaining a sense of objectivity and how important it may or may not be, I have to talk about my time in the inner city. I worked in a very scary part of Cincinnati for a year. I've seen more awful things in one year than I'll see for the rest of my life. There is a cultural break that has happened in the inner city that most likely stems from institutionalized racism, but the results are horrible as well. There is a complete break of trust from the police in the inner. The concept of reporting a valid crime is so beyond possibility that no crime is ever really reported. Arrests only happen if a police officer views the crime in progress because no one will talk to police. Think of the worst crime you can think of. Yup, probably that one. I had a student report this crime happening to her and then I found out that ten other students had this happen to them by the same person. I tried to get this person arrested. I tried my hardest. I tried to move heaven and earth to make this happen. You know why it wouldn't happen? The student's mother told her not talk to the police. The other ten students wouldn't come forward for the same reason. I google this guy's name about once a month to see if anything has ever happened to him. It hasn't and it won't. I couldn't even get the guy booted from our school. So do I get the War on Drugs? Yes. It is a crime that doesn't need a witness. If a person is caught with drugs, there's no need for the cultural distrust of police.
Beyond that, I can get behind everything. It's odd how we studied Birth of a Nation so hard this year that it seems to permeate every discussion we have about film and racism. 13th structures its narrative from there. It is upsetting to think that a movie played such a strong role in our national narrative, but it makes a ton of sense. Birth of a Nation presents feelings of sympathy for racism. It is asking its viewers to be unapologetic for its distrust and hatred. It never even presents it as has hatred. It is the moral right in that movie and everything that we have gone through as a country might be tied to the views in this movie. Racists don't think that they are doing something wrong. They believe that they are defending something good and right that is being purged.
I have a lot of thoughts on how the movie was made, but I don't have many suggestions on how to improve it. The primary argument is one of logic first and ethics second. It does a fantastic job of presenting the facts of history, citing statistics and slowly breaking down trends. These statistics are then followed up by college professors who tie the stats to an event in history. It is extremely illuminating, but there is a bit of a tone of being talked down to. There is a tone of disgust for the Republican party, and from their perspective, it makes a ton of sense. I just don't know if the purpose of the movie is to change the minds of Republicans or to secure the support of people who are predisposed to agree anyway. But it also has to be for the people on the fence and the people who are unaware of this injustice. Perhaps I've just grown weary of the constant political bickering and the obsession with being right that I want to find common ground. While the message of 13th is vital, it's final goal seems to be the moral high ground rather than opening the door to change.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.