Ava DuVernay’s Netflix Documentary Is the Most Relevant Movie of the Year — NYFF
DuVernay’s searing look at the criminalization of African Americans folds many periods of history into a single focused argument.
Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13TH” has the precision of a foolproof argument underscored by decades of frustration. The movie tracks the criminalization of African Americans from the end of the Civil War to the present day, assailing a broken prison system and other examples of institutionalized racial bias with a measured gaze. It combines the rage of Black Lives Matter and the cool intelligence of a focused dissertation. DuVernay folds many historical details into an infuriating arrangement of statistics and cogent explanations for the evolution of racial bias in the United States, folding in everything from D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” to the war on drugs. The broad scope is made palatable by the consistency of its focus, and the collective anger it represents.
Visually, the movie offers little more than the standard arrangement of talking heads, archival footage and animated visual aids, but that’s all it takes to make its incendiary statements resonate across time. While not the strongest filmmaking achievement of the year, it’s certainly the most relevant — a scattershot survey that consolidates some 150 years of American history to show how the country’s current problems with race didn’t happen overnight.
“13TH” is a natural fit for Netflix, which will find an immediate audience for this topical subject matter in homes around the country. But it’s even more appropriate for DuVernay, whose career speaks with increasing volume to the challenges facing minorities today and their roots in the past. “13TH” is a dense, chronological overview that fits in naturally with DuVernay’s breakout narrative feature “Middle of Nowhere,” which involves an incarcerated black man, and her Martin Luther King Jr. biopic “Selma,” providing a sober-eyed context to the dramas they capture. Read more