Amyiah Burton

13th The Documentary

Amyiah Burton

History 232-06


African Americans have never been absolutely free even after the emancipation. The ratification of the 13th Amendment was a chance for slave owners and supporters to draft a law that had loopholes to keep African Americans in chains, literally and figuratively. It was a clause that shifted the definition of slavery from a ‘legitimate" business to a legal method of punishment for lawbreakers. African Americans are suffering from the legacy of slavery a century almost two centuries after 1867. The institutionalization of slavery and the wide racial and partisan disparities and the position of African Americans in American society has been nothing short of slavery. America boasts of these lofty ideals, but on the other hand, it has subjected Negroes to a second class status with the political elite selecting the nobility of their civic creed at the expense of social arrangements that have been in existence for many years.

The black race in America is subjected to extreme stereotyping, economic inequality, and stigmatization for their way of life and isolated by the society. Their purported criminality has resulted in racial profiling by law enforcement to the extent that black people are arrested, and many of their rights are violated in the process. There have been documented and undocumented cases of black people being physically beaten by the police during arrest and held at police stations beyond the requirements of the law.

The 13th is a documentary by Ava DuVernay, which focuses on the Thirteenth Amendment very significant legislation that resulted in mass incarceration in the United States. Besides covering this epic event in history, the film is gorgeous, reminiscent, and infuriating exploration powers, roots, and permanence. The film showcases the account of those wielded power and those made to kneel by this power, their roots, and their permanence. From history, the economy of the Southern state was decimated. The primary sources of income for the South, slaves, were no longer obliged up and serve as free labor for their fields. There was, however, an exception was made for criminals who, according to the law, were eligible for enlistment as slaves as part of their punishment. In the first restatement of a strategy by the South, hundreds of slaves who had started enjoying their freedom were enslaved again courtesy of trivial mistakes and minor charges. This informed the beginning of Duvernay’s examination of the evolving iterations.

The cycle was such that when one method of subservience-based injustice and terror subsided, another rose in its place. The list used by Duvernay in this documentary included the Jim Crow era, lynching if black people, Nixon’s race for the presidency, Reagans War on Drugs, President Clinton’s three strikes, and the compulsory sentencing rulings and the cash-for-prisoners in effect today. The cash for prisoners is a model that bail and incarceration firms use to generate millions of dollars.

The 13th, however, concentrates a bit more on the cash-for-prisoners model and even portrays the tally of the prisoners to go through the system on-screen. The use of context, in this case, is very important because although history still has significance, it is necessary to create awareness of the situation of black people today. The other does a perfect job to remind the world and black people that they are still not considered nothing more than just that, African Americans. America does not see beyond their color. The use of the 13th Amendment as the thesis for this film is appropriate and creates a path that allows the film director to exhaust the evolution of prejudice against black people over the years.


Harris-Perry, Melissa V. Sister citizen: Shame, stereotypes, and Black women in America. Yale University Press, 2011.

Luxe. "Thirteenth Amendment Documentary." YouTube. Video file. October 16, 2016.

Pope, James Gray. "Mass Incarceration, Convict Leasing, and the Thirteenth Amendment: A Revisionist Account." New York University Law Review 94, no. 6 (2019): 1465-1554.