Thursday, December 7, 2023
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13th Review

I, like many, have been outraged by recent events. The recent explosion of Black Lives Matter movements around the world has been a truly interesting experience to see, be aware of and to watch unfold. Now that social media has put it on the pedestal of importance for a week or so, many have recommended 13th as the go-to documentary for highlighting the importance of the movement. The inequalities that run rampant around the world aren’t so much highlighted by 13th a very ham-fisted, Hollywood style documentary that looks to focus in on the racism and dissemination of hate within the American prison system and its impact on African Americans.

Interesting moments are scattered throughout, most focusing in on the relationship between how a few societal critics see African Americans and the prison system. Predominantly focused on Jim Crowe, and the evidence to how the implementation of the 13th Amendment led to slave labour within prisons, 13th is, by all means, a very interesting topic. It’s all very surface level, with the documentary never focusing on anything wholly engaging, never offering up any solutions to the issue it looks to face. Moments where the documentary points out the obviously abhorrent and repugnant behaviour, the fumbling hands of politicians and encroaching corporations are rather ineffective due to how blandly they’re presented.

By the looks of it all, America certainly has some genuine issues surrounding its reformation of the prison system. That’s the angle the documentary wishes to dig into, and there’s more than enough to present a responsible, interesting argument for such a thought. There’s little more than hammering home the same message over and over though, and it’s never done in a way that sets it out from any other modern-day equivalent, fiction or non-fiction. A great deal of focus is fed into the acts and procedures Bill Clinton took in his attempt to reform the system. Applying the mechanics of baseball to criminals isn’t quite what I’d expected, so it was nice learning about how even in the most controversial of American subjects, sports reigns supreme.

Powerful, but there are a few major pot-holes in the road along the way. Equality isn’t something that should be up for debate, it should be a given right. I truly appreciate the message this film aims to present; it’s just not presented in an interesting or unflinching way. Pursuing that leads to documentaries that are made with a certain degree of sincerity, but products that miss their mark and either confuse themselves or don’t quite go for the jugular as they should. DuVernay’s direction and assembling of this documentary is glazed in traditional Hollywood filler, with forgettable interviews and some sloppy visuals, with the importance of its message struggling to break free from under the weight of its bland approach.

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Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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