In celebration of Black History Month, we’re making daily movie recommendations, presented in chronological order of the films’ stories.
Stay tuned to Noovie every day as we highlight an original, landmark film worth revisiting or discovering for the first time.
February 26 – 13th (2016)
Writer-producer-director Ava DuVernay (“Selma,” “A Wrinkle in Time”) released her acclaimed Netflix documentary “13th” just a few months before the 2016 election. Through timely interviews with thoroughly informed interviewees, DuVernay explores the historical facts of America’s development post 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865 – the amendment that abolished slavery in the United States.
The film argues that slavery of one kind was simply replaced by another form of oppression – lynchings, disenfranchisement, Jim Crow laws, a war on drugs that targeted minority communities and mass incarceration that leaned heavily towards African Americans.
The documentary opens with audio of former President Barack Obama explaining that America has 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. It then traces back through the years to answer why that is the case, and why the majority of those imprisoned are African American.
Interviews with figures such as Angela Davis, Van Jones, Corey Booker, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Bryan Stevenson and other important activists, historical scholars, politicians and others paint a convincing portrait of how legislation was enacted that put African American communities at a severe, prejudiced disadvantage.
By the end of the 20th century, there were clear and unfair reasons why young black males especially were looked at with fear by white America. Minor drug offenses were given stern and long prison sentences. Policies such as the three-strikes law helped keep prisons full of minorities. And groups such as the corporate-backed ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council – helped author many of the policies that kept for-profit private prisons booming. It’s an ugly reality made more disturbing by trends that continue to this day.
The film’s finale is heartbreaking, as footage shows black men being shot and beaten by police. But DuVernay adds a grace note showing photos of African Americans leading a more positive and warm existence. It’s a calling card to action for the rest of us, to work towards that better future.
“13th” was highly acclaimed, from its opening as the first documentary to open the New York Film Festival on September 30, 2016, to its release on Netflix on October 7, 2016.
It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards and is currently rated 97% fresh with critics on Rotten Tomatoes, and 91% with audiences. It is essential viewing for Black History Month.
Where to Watch
See “13th” now on Netflix
Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.