“There’s about a thousand hours of racist violent footage that we had to go through — it was tough, it took two years,” said Ava DuVernay earlier this year when we discussed the Netflix documentary “13th,” which at the time had just been nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Now the film is nominated for an impressive eight Emmy Awards, which makes it the second most nominated nonfiction program of the year, behind only “Planet Earth II” with 10 bids. Watch our video chat about “13th” above.
“13th” tells the story of American history through the prism of mass incarceration. The film posits that the seeds of the prison industrial complex were sewn all the way back in the 19th century, when the 13th Amendment abolished slavery “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” So a system of laws targeting and criminalizing African-Americans rose up, from Jim Crow to the war on drugs, leading to a disproportionate number of black prisoners who no longer have their full constitutional protections as citizens.
The nominations for the film include Best Documentary/Nonfiction Special as well as additional bids for DuVernay as a writer and director. The film’s original song “Letter to the Free” also earned a nom for songwriters Common, Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins. But the film was emotionally draining for DuVernay, who confronted the history of American racism in this film after doing similar heavy lifting with the 2014 docudrama “Selma” about Martin Luther King‘s march for voting rights. So it was a relief for DuVernay to switch gears from these difficult true-life stories to the fanciful “A Wrinkle in Time,” based on the classic 1963 book by Madeleine L’Engle.
The fantasy film opens in 2018 (watch the trailer below), giving DuVernay the distinction as the first woman of color to helm a film budgeted over $100 million. She told us that after “13th,” “I’m glad I get to make a movie now with things that fly and great costumes and escape a little bit. I need a self-care moment.”