– Prison Industrial Complex – 13th – Netflix original documentary review –
Our monthly review ‘Secluded’ will discuss a documentary that falls under our (Solutionism) remit in relation to politics, economics or social issues. The title of this documentary refers to the 13th amendment in the American constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, in 1865.
– Trailer for 13th –
The 13th amendment subsequently had an unintentional loophole that stated “except as a punishment from crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” After the civil war southern US states were faced with task of replacing four million slaves who previously were the key component in this regions economic system.
The answer to this insufficient supply of labour was mass incarceration of African-Americans for minor crimes, such as loitering and vagrancy. Thus began a system of convict leasing allowing prisoners work for private entities.
The opening scene is striking, as it shifts the audiences attention to the US prison population as a percentage of the overall global prisoner population with Barack Obama stating, at the NAACP’s 106th National Convention “the United States is home to five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.”
African American men account for an estimated 6.5% of the U.S. population, however, they make up 40.2% of the U.S. prison population.1 in 3 African American men are expected to go to prison during their lifetime. While 1 in 17 white males are expected to go to prison during their lifetime.
After the civil war a clause in the 13th amendment created an opportunity for the south to rebuild its economy by taking a siphon effectively through African-American communities forcing them back into slavery, due to their trumped up charges. “It was our nation’s first prison boom,” Michelle Alexander, author of ‘The New Jim Crow.’
At this time there was also a lot of propaganda and stigma surrounding African-American males in the US. Du Vernay’s ’13th’ initially highlights the negative rhetoric for the average African-American, who were perceived as a danger to white women and society. These barbaric and animalistic generalisation only intensified after the release of D.W. Griffith’s pro-Klan movie, ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ in 1915.
Klu Klux Klan (KKK) introduced a burning cross into their ceremonies after its inclusion in the film for cinematic effect. This was said to have increased support for the KKK leading to a growth in lynchings. ’13th’ notes that in 1924, at the national democratic convention in New York, it was estimated that 350 delegates were klansmen in attendance.Subsequently the
The documentary explores the Jim Crow laws that legitimised African-Americans second-class citizenship, which led to the birth of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King’s campaign for equality. A key aspect of the campaign was changing the perspective of going to jail for a cause, as a noble act.
The 1965 Civil Rights Act was passed to remedy the situation, ’13th’ links an increase in crime and the Republican Southern Strategy, formulated under President Nixon, who championed the saying the requirement for ‘law and order’, which cultivated misplaced fear to attack the anti-war and Black Panthers activists party.
This call for ‘law and order’ was a direct response to the chaos of urban city due to the civil rights movement. This is exemplified by the police, who brutally murdered Fred Hampton the Chicago leader of the Black Panther Movement.
The war on drugs was a joint venture between the Republicans and Democrats, which saw the introduction of policy targeting poorer communities were the new epidemic of crack cocaine was to be criminalised. Opinion polls at the time actually indicated tat drugs were not an issue for citizens at the time of this clamp down on crime.
The introduction of crack cocaine in the Mid 1980s was in tandem with a growing poverty rate, which reached its highest point in nearly two decades. Crack cocaine was prevalent in black neighbourhoods in comparison to the more expensive powder variety.
The courts were issuing questionable sentences for different forms of this drug. 13th highlights the comparison between policy individuals in possession of 1 ounce of crack cocaine receiving similar sentences, as individuals possessing 100 ounces of the powered form of cocaine.
Du Venay’s ’13th’ delves through the historical oppression of the African-American community, who were forced into slavery and subsequently imprisoned after the introduction of the US civil war for blatant misdemeanour.
The focus shifts to an image of Bill Clinton apologising for his role in the ‘1994 Omnibus Crime Bill‘ that actually led to an expansion of prison services, which cost the taxpayer $30 billion. Interviewees in the documentary highlight the racial disparities in drug sentences during the crack epidemic.
In conjunction with this clampdown on drugs, a growing culture of the over representation of criminals, in society, specifically young Latinos and African-American males in cop TV shows and on the news daily .
Current US president Donald Trump received airtime speaking in 1989 about the brutal beating and rape of a female jogger in Central Park. Initially five black and Latino male teenagers (17) were convicted and imprisoned but later vindicated by DNA evidence.
Trump was so infuriated about the case he took a full-page ad out in the New York Daily News urging New York to “bring back the death penalty.” Whilst Trump’s democrat rival in the last election Hilary Clinton is featured making controversial remarks in relation to “superpredators,” after supporting her husband 1994 crime bill.
In an interview with The Washington Post – DuVernay said she initially sought to make a documentary focuses on “the idea that there are companies making millions of dollars off the punishment of human beings.”
13th takes the audience on a emotive role-coaster as it portrays male and female African-Americans subject to undue harassment, abuse and violence from police and other citizens. The film examines many facets that have and are currently effecting the prison industrial complex.
Attention shifts to former Rykers Island inmate Khalief Browder, who exercised his right to a trial instead of pleading guilty for a crime he never committed. After undue police harassment Browder committed suicide two years after his release from prison. The film changes its focus to information pertaining to the introduction of ‘mandatory minimum sentencing‘ and ‘three strikes and your out‘ laws, who were supported by ALEC.
As mentioned in ’13th,’ American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are a conservative policy group that provides model legislation for state lawmakers. The film explores the relationship between bills that directly benefit for profit prisons. ALEC’s task force meetings allow politicians and their corporate lobbyist counterparts to cast secret ballots on policy that said lawmakers will subsequently introduce.
A key moment in the film shows a state representative for Minnesota, Steve Gottwalt proposing a bill and when asked, if it is his bill he that he is proposing he replies of course and another state representative Joe Atkins (Minnesota) in the clip states how ALEC’s letterhead is on the bill and how the bill it is essentially “verbatim”.
The documentary explores Core Civic, formally known as the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) a private prison management company who are a member of ALEC. They were the first private prison management company in the US offering their service contracts, in 1983. CCA was on the task force for ALEC on a bill that directly benefitted themselves SB1070, which allowed police stop anyone that looked like an immigrant.
SB1070 directly benefitted ALEC member CCA, as this bill led to an increase in the occupancy of the US immigration detention facilities. Marie Gottschalk describes the creation of this ‘crimigration‘ system.
Secondly the film delves into companies utilising prison labour for production, as a means of cheap labour. Companies were able to exploit prison inmates as a means of cheap labour due to the legal language in the 13th amendment. JC Penny and Victoria Secret cut ties with their supplier after ties became apparent
A prison inmate after serving his sentence is unable to vote in an election and contribute to a democracy. A large proportion of African-Americans who have been incarcerated are/ have been unable to contribute to the political proceedings after reentering into civilised society. The film discusses briefly the potential of parole’s and other inmates living under house arrest, as an answer to prison overcrowding.
Unfortunately this could create 21st century slums that is in essence creating an environment were citizens who have committed a felony spend the duration of their sentence captive in their own home.
Overall the film examines the evolution of enslaved African-American community and how policy reflected the incarceration of said community after the civil rights movement. Finally the focus shifts to police shootings, riots and scenes from Black Lives Matter rallies, who are currently fighting against this modern day oppression that has evolved from slavery.
Different perspective on Medium – Click Here –
Full list of cast and crew in 13TH – Click Here –
Director – Ava Du Vernay