Documentary by Ava DuVernay


“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.”    The 13th Constitutional Amendment ratified in 1865


Several hundred years ago, the elders among  our salt-water relatives, would sit around the main communal space of the village and tell stories about life, the history of the tribe, the origins of their customs and their role in the universe.  Inevitably these teaching sessions would include warnings to the young of the village with the idea of keeping them safe from harm. There would be emphatic admonitions about the importance of recognizing the dangers of particular locations and of the specific wild beasts that inhabit those locals. 

Today, we are removed from those teaching sessions. The young no longer sit under the guidance of the elders. The distractions of movies and television, not to mention social media, have all but taken over the role of the village square and the instructions to our youth  are not so much concerned with pointing out their space in the world or how to keep them safe, no, its more concerned with ensuring that our young  be energetic consumers of almost anything as long as its being peddled by some entity whose main objective is profit or the bottom line.

And then along comes a film like 13th, directed by Ava DeVernay, which is a gathering of the intellectual elders (elites) of our metaphorical village and she skillfully tells us a truthful story about the condition of black America today by connecting the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which at face value grants freedom to those held in bondage (slaves) and  the intentional devices employed by American politicians to perpetuate that bondage under the guise of ‘keeping America safe’.  

If we imagine our current social predicament, lack of quality schools, high un-employment rates among black youth, etc, as being at an intersection of a spider’s web, generally we are so caught up in trying to un-tangle ourselves from the adhesive that the web produces, that we don’t even acknowledge the existence of the entire web, Ava DeVernay , in her extraordinary documentary, 13th, provides us with a satellite view of the web’s entirety.  Many of the historical processes that have gone into crafting our present day social environment are laid to bare and the individual and corporate conspirators are exposed.  By using her craft as a sledgehammer, she destroys the myth that the responsibility for the social condition of black people is due to a ‘lack of industry’ on our part but the villain is really an intentional conspiracy of the social designers of slavery, Jim Crow and of Law and Order policies that has shaped our American Way of life.

 Its time to gather around the village square and sit our young folk down and go over the lessons that 13th  has to offer.  The knowledge being given to us in this offering  is as important to our survival and well-being as our predecessor's knowledge of where water and food could be found and cultivated or where the lions and hyenas lie in wait for their chance to pounce.     m.a ibrahim

Trailer for 13th can be viewed by clicking here on NETFLIX


Also of interest: BLACK POWER MIX TAPE

The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975 is a 2011 documentary film, directed by Göran Olsson, that examines the evolution of the Black Power Movement in American society from 1967 to 1975

Trailer and full length documentary are currently available by clicking on Youtube