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13th Documentary Summary

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PSY 130


13th Documentary Summary


The Netflix documentary 13th, argues a number of issues—from Jim Crow laws to President Nixon’s “war on drugs” and President Clinton’s “three-strikes-you’re-out” laws—have served to send increasing numbers of black men to prison, and several legal scholars and activists interviewed for the film suggest a profit motive, as well as racism. The film informs viewers that corporations have reaped profits off the privatization of prisons and prison labor. Ava Duvernay, the director, shows how some prisoners have gotten paid as little as 12 cents an hour, doing work for corporations, like Victoria’s Secret and Walmart. The film charts the explosive growth in America’s prison population. The documentary states that in 1970, there were about 200,000 prisoners. Today, the prison population is more than 2 million. Although the U.S. has just 5% of the world’s population, it has about 25% of the world’s prisoners, and about one in three prisoners are black men. More than 60% of the people in U.S prisons are people of color. The film also talks about both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It criticizes Bill and Hillary Clinton for supporting the 1990s crime bill that led to a jump in the prison population. But one of the most chilling scenes in the movie is when Trump rallies—with angry whites getting violent with African American protesters—are juxtaposed against  clips of civil rights protesters. “In the old days,” Donald Trump is heard saying, approvingly, protesters would be “carried out on stretchers.” This, to me, was the most shocking thing to see. As a woman of color, I was deeply saddened as well as frightened by hearing those words come from a presidential candidate (and now the President of the United States). The clips shown from the civil rights movement truly terrify me, I had to step away from the film for a few minutes to regain my composure. It's hard to watch, but it's also way more difficult to imagine a society that behaved that way. Having lived in California my whole life, a state that is immensely diversified and culturally acceptive, it’s hard to believe that the rest of the country still have outdated and racist mindsets. However, the film was definitely eye-opening to me. I was unaware of how corrupt and unfair justice and legal systems were. I knew that racism is still alive and well in this country, having experienced it firsthand and witnessed it personally, but I didn't know how much this issue affects the political systems and correctional institutions. Overall, the film stirs up much needed awareness and sparks conversations about the controversial topics portrayed.



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