Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 2016. Kandoo Films. Screenplay by Spencer Averick, Ava DuVernay. Cinematography by Hans Charles, Kira Kelly. Produced by Spencer Averick, Howard Barish, Ava DuVernay. Music by Jason Moran. Film Editing by Spencer Averick. Academy Awards 2016. Independent Spirit Awards 2016. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2016. Online Film Critics Awards 2016. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2016. Washington Film Critics Awards 2016.
Ava DuVernay follows her critically acclaimed Selma with a documentary that looks further into the history of racial inequality in America. With the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery at the end of the Civil War, what many of us think was the beginning of a new freedom for black citizens was actually a continuation of an American underclass under altered terms. The amendment’s wording states that freedom will not be denied anyone save those accused of criminal behaviour, a seemingly sensible condition that history tells us was used as a loophole against African Americans to maintain the advantages that slavery had provided the country’s economic growth for so many years. DuVernay includes interviews with a selection of charismatic individuals, mostly academics and politicians, who draw a direct line from the thirteenth amendment to the current situation of mass incarceration that exists today and makes for some pretty alarming statistics (African Americans are a small percentage of the country’s population and yet make up a very high percentage of prison populations). Looking at the habits of news media and political campaigning thickens the plot in a tale that DuVernay wisely ends with no easy answers; it’s one thing to understand more than a century of history in such wisely streamlined terms, but there’s no denying that the solution feels impossible to work out. The inclusion of differing viewpoints gives more weight to the film by not selecting the attention-grabbing Ann Coulter-types that are often very popular in this kind of investigation but choosing conservatives who can put their argument across without resorting to name-calling. This film is a sobering and intelligent experience, with blistering film footage that will make a deep impression even if you’ve seen some of it before.