“It’s a bit of a shock and awe concept around this documentary,” says director Ava DuVernay in our recent webchat about her Oscar nominated Netflix documentary “13th” (watch our interview above). “I wanted to shock people with all this information into action, shock them into attention, shock them into awareness.”
Part of that shock-and-awe approach was trying to convey centuries of history in 100 minutes. “13th” tracks the story of American racial inequality from the days of slavery to the modern era of mass incarceration, focusing closely on how the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution, which abolished slavery, included language that sowed the seeds for the criminalization and imprisonment of people of color.
Telling that story to audiences now is especially important in light of the current political climate — namely the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. “This is a time that will be long remembered and long studied in history, and we are here right now,” DuVernay explains. History will ask us, “What did you say? Did you raise your voice, did you speak up, did you close your eyes to everything that’s happening?”
She adds, “We are now being governed buy a racist, misogynistic homophobe … I feel like it’s incumbent upon anyone who cares about justice and dignity, forward-thinking people, to learn about each other. We have to learn about each other and come together because the opponent is far too powerful for us to be scattered and divided, so the hope is that ’13th’ can do its part.”
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