History classes in the United States teach that the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the constitution, aka the Civil War Amendments, ended slavery, granted equality, and gave Black men the right to vote. But in Ava Duvernay's documentary 13TH, she takes the first of this trio, the 13th Amendment, which outlaws slavery and gives it another look. This essential deep dive into how our country came to be the way it is today is profoundly educational, and now Netflix has made Ava Duvernay's 13TH available on YouTube so that everyone can learn.
The key line in the 13th Amendment reads as follows: "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."
One might look at this sentence under the law and see it as perfectly reasonable. Slavery and servitude are outlawed; only people who are jailed for crimes by the local or federal governments will be locked away. But this clause, "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted," has been turned into a loophole. As the Civil Rights movement ended Jim Crow, leaders began over-policing Black communities, creating a system of mass incarceration focused on removing people of color, mainly black men, out of society.
The documentary covers the full process from the end of slavery to mass incarceration, and how this clause became so central to it. As the synopsis puts it:
The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass criminalization and the sprawling American prison industry is laid out by DuVernay with bracing lucidity. With a potent mixture of archival footage and testimony from a dazzling array of activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men, DuVernay creates a work of grand historical synthesis.
The wave of protests that began with the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, put Black Lives Matter and police brutality at the forefront of the public discourse. Since June 1, Netflix has made Duvernay's documentary chronicling how this mass incarceration state began free to viewers even without a subscription. In terms of getting a rise in viewership for the documentary, Netflix is proud to announce that it worked. 13TH has seen over a 4000% rise in streams since the beginning of the month.
Now the company has gone one further. The documentary is now available on YouTube, making it easier for teachers or those without a Netflix subscription to use as an educational resource. Netflix had initially made the version on its site accessible to teachers, but only for one-time use. With the move to YouTube, the documentary becomes a constant resource for teachers to use.
13TH is also part of Netflix's Black Lives Matter collection, along with 40+ other titles by Black filmmakers for viewers to check out.