By Roger Costa
As several real footage images of brutality against African-Americans defies the viewers’ endurance, an activist on screen exclaims: “People need to be shocked in order to understand, people need to see it!” referring to the powerful influence those images can generate in people’s quest for justice, “if it doesn’t change anything, at least it’ll sparkle conversations about the issue, and people will be aware of what’s going on”. We all know we need much more than just a conversation. And so does Golden Globe-nominated director Ava DuVernay (“Selma”), as she decides to expose the filthy truths behind racism, law making and modern slavery in the greatest country of the world. In this phenomenal, utterly important and urgent documentary, she gathers shocking info on these subjects, listening to the voices that have been currently fighting for civil rights, such as activists, philosophers, specialists, lawyers and so on. Using Hip-hop lyrics to connect the scenes and a piano soundtrack that elevates the emotional tone, DuVernay’s develops an intriguing, claustrophobic sense of a thriller, proving she’s totally committed to the project. She introduces the film revealing two shocking facts: America has 2% of the world’s population as well as 25% of the world’s prisoners. Completely accurate, she investigates how slavery has been part of our daily living since the first African was brought to America, and how society, politicians and law makers were able to maintain the strategy working, in a different adapted form for the current days.
A powerful knockout on the criminal justice system, “THE 13th” looks for answers for the racial conflict, asking each one of us to take part on the fight against injustice. The audience becomes a witness to the horrific facts of the degradation of human values and rights. The atmosphere of revolt and anguish continues, as DuVernay offers a detailed and precise account on how racism has been contaminating society throughout the centuries, basically the history of general and racial violence: after the Civil War, America found a way of keeping blacks banished and enslaved, which is criminalizing them with strategies to maintain them in prisons in order to profit on free labor. The decline of a nation, and its interracial relations is demonstrated here phase by phase based on the elements responsible for the issue: color, money, prejudice, the infestation of crack, the unjust long incarcerations of people who committed small crimes, the imperialist greed of politicians, and how multi-millionaire corporations such as Victoria Secret and J.C. Penney are using the prison’s industry of manufacturing, partnering with Alec, a company that creates laws for the Congress, mostly looking to profit from prisoners labor.
A journalistic masterpiece, an important statement and urgent call for justice in America, between races and in the world, “THE 13th” is definitely the greatest documentary of the year, and is certainly poised to get the Oscar. It is also the most important film to deal with such issue, so accurate for this Presidential Election period, extremely heartbreaking and a powerful historical document that incites the consciousness and announces a racial revolution. The Must-See Film of the season!
THE 13th (Opens Friday at IFC Center in NYC)