“13th” Directed by Ava Duvernay (Netflix streaming)

By on February 22, 2017

13thThe topic of director Ava Duverney’s “13th” is that this country’s prison system is set up to incarcerate as many people as possible so companies, private individuals and politicians benefit financially by way of the businesses that provide goods and services to prisons.  The focus is on how blacks are targeted for minor offenses (pot possession) and arrested and imprisoned.  Because they’re too poor to make bail or hire lawyers, the amendment doesn’t apply to them.  Prisoners are, among other things, used as laborers to make goods sold at retail outlets like Sears and Penneys.  “13th” goes into detail about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC, which includes State Farm Insurance, Walmart, P&G, Google, J&J, Koch, PhRMA) and the Corrections Corporation of America, organizations that directly benefit by incarcerating as many people as possible.  In justifying making money off the prison system and prisoners, Maryland State Senator (R) Michael Hough, a member of ALEC, says (in a self-congratulatory way that doesn’t come across in print), “We’re supposed to be the party of innovation.”  And delusion.  He also admits to not understanding what the critics of ALEC are even talking about.  What you notice most prominently about his presence is the vacuous look in his eyes as he speaks.  And that he’s in terrible physical shape for someone even 20 years older than he is.

This is the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

What’s bolded is the loophole that allows the system to use and abuse prisoners as they wish.  In other words, treat them as slaves.

Then, of course, there is the associated violence against blacks, which is dehumanizing and terrible, however familiar we are with the images.  When you commit a crime, you become a legal enemy of law enforcement, where institutional racism is not uncommon.  When you resist arrest, you set yourself up to be killed by someone with a gun, the law and a very corrupt and racist system on their side.  People can choose to not commit a crime and not resist arrest.  As we know, many people become cops just for those moments, especially the racist cops.  PEOPLE, PLEASE STOP COMMITTING CRIMES AND PUTTING YOURSELVES IN A POSITION WHERE YOU CANNOT WIN2.  The worst and most tragic examples of people killed or imprisoned are those who are completely innocent.

What’s surprising — and only because it sounded like a good thing at the time — was Bill Clinton’s contribution to filling up the prison systems with his 1995 “Three-strikes law” policy, which was in reaction to Democrats losing the three previous presidential elections because of their soft stance on criminals.  (Walmart, which I reference in the first paragraph of this writing, is headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas, Clinton’s home state.)

Done in an interview style with people — including current U.S. Senator Cory Booker and 1970’s “militant” and retired UCSC professor Angela Davis — that are knowledgeable and passionate, using Jim Crow and Civil Rights era photos and footage as well as shocking footage from inside prisons, the film is enlightening and infuriating.  They also give several Republicans — including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — the opportunity to voice their opinions.1

“13th” is very well made documentary by the director of “Selma”, which I didn’t see.  Because I’ve read and seen so much about it all my life, a dramatization would just anger me more and serve no constructive purpose.  And no, I couldn’t put the human rights issue aside and think of it as “entertainment.”

What’s most revealing and disappointing about what we learn from “13th” is how much in the dark the American public is and will always be concerning the political and corporate machines in this country and the sick relationship they have with each other, all at the expense of the rest of us and how little our lives mean to them.  In a timely segment that all but guarantees a Best Documentary Oscar win, video and audio excerpts from Donald Trump’s low-road-to-the-White House campaign are used brilliantly against the backdrop of Jim Crow and Civil Rights photos and film footage of brutal violence against blacks.  Powerful.


February 22, 2017


1 Here’s the IMDB page for “13th”, which I’m providing so you can see the list of people interviewed.   I love listening to intelligent, articulate, knowledgeable and passionate people speak.  When the Republicans speak, it’s like nails on an ignorant, hateful and greedy chalk board.      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5895028/

2 Now I’m really starting to think the federal government refuses to legalize pot for the reasons presented in this film.  DECRIMINALIZE POT AND YOU REMOVE THE CRIMINAL ELEMENT.  The same with cocaine.  Like with alcohol, it has to be emphasized that MODERATION is the key when using any of these substances, although abstaining from all of them — unless you have a health condition that marijuana would help with — is the best choice.  Actually, I’m borderline on the cocaine issue but you know what I mean.  Decriminalize it and you get rid of mind-boggling stories like this one involving a retired NYPD cop. http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/crooked-retired-charged-killing-cocaine-deal-article-1.2917469   That’s much more my point than the drug use itself, which I don’t condone at all.  I don’t even drink coffee.

Free up the law enforcement and legal systems, save billions on the losing war on drugs, and rake in even more billions in tax dollars, for crying out loud.  Look at how dumb and ineffective prohibition seems to us in hindsight.  For all her prudishness, Carrie Nation’s heart was in the right place but look at the crime (and Joe Kennedy’s ascension) brought on by prohibition.  I don’t feel the same about opioids or unnecessary (I know, it’s a hard call) prescription drugs, especially the ones for anxiety and depression.  There have to be better alternatives to those mind-mangling chemicals, which are severely over-prescribed by doctors in this country.

According to this 2016 SI interview with former NFL running back and 1998 Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams, 60-70% of NFL players smoke pot; not just for recreational purposes, but to help with anxiety, depression and pain from injuries.    http://www.si.com/nfl/2016/07/13/ricky-williams-nfl-players-percentage-smoke-marijuana   In Williams’ case, his advocacy for the legalization of marijuana detracted from his NFL career — including a one-year suspension — but he was an extremely talented and hard-working guy nonetheless.


I’m watching an open discussion on CNN between Trump supporters and people who oppose him, maybe about ten people in total.  The anti-Trump people are articulate, thoughtful, open-minded, racially mixed, in good health and all seem educated.  The Trump supporters are inarticulate, unbending, severely overweight and white.  The Trump supporters think the news is misleading the public to believe that most people are anti-Trump because everyone in their incredibly limited (despite access to TV and the internet) and narrow-minded world thinks like they do.  Their tense body language and facial expressions show they’re clearly uncomfortable and upset being around intelligent, articulate people, especially women of color or who are gay.

When one of the Trump supporters says he has friends from all walks of life, you get the impression he’s talking about his white mechanic, his white postal carrier, his white fellow NRA members, his white neighbors, his white boss, his children’s white teachers, the other white PTA members, his white fellow truck drivers, his white fellow NASCAR devotees, his wife’s white friends who watch Honey Boo Boo and Real Housewives of ______ , his white fellow Elks Club and Rotary Club members, . . .you know, all walks of life.

About Dan Walker

As part of an Air Force family, I went to elementary school in Great Falls, MT, junior high in Cheyenne, WY and high school and college in the San Francisco Bay Area, graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in business. I was fortunate to have worked for great companies in Silicon Valley (Oracle Corp) and Hollywood (Miramax Films). I also lived and worked (primarily in financial services, which has no great companies) for eight years in Manhattan, New York City. I now reside in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


HTML tags are not allowed.