[Blackstudies-l] Ava DuVernay's Documentary streaming on Netflix

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Thu Oct 20 08:41:36 EDT 2016


Democrat and Chronicle
10/20/2016 - Page A13



Prison industrial complex laid bare

"Not whips and chains — all subliminal; instead of (n-word) they use the
word criminal" — Common from "Letter to the Free" In the end, she gives us
grace. And by then, you really need it.

The end credits roll over pictures celebrating everyday joys of
African-American life. A beaming girl rides a pony. Boys flex. Fathers
cuddle daughters.

The anger and pain that have sat heavily in your chest for more than 90
minutes begin to lift ever so slightly at these reminders of black life
still stubbornly managing to be lived even in the midst of state-sponsored
oppression.

Otherwise called, without irony, the U.S.

justice system.

In 13th , the troubling new documentary from director Ava DuVernay now
streaming on Netflix, the American prison industrial complex is laid bare
as a machine designed for the suppression of an inconvenient populace.
Meaning black men — the nation’s boogeymen for two centuries and counting.
Like The New Jim Crow, the game-changing 2012 book by Michelle Alexander,
13th doesn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know if you’ve been
paying attention. Its triumph is to fit the pieces together, to make
visible the pattern that was there all along. Namely, that much of what we
call justice is a 150-year effort to win back what was lost at Appomattox.
Yet somehow, we never quite see.

Six point five percent of the coun! try accounts for over 40 percent of its
prisoners. The liberal looks at this and says, isn’t it a shame what
poverty does to them? The conservative looks at it and says, isn’t it a
shame they embrace thug culture? The overt racist looks at it and says,
isn’t it a shame they’re naturally criminal?

Hardly anyone looks at it and says, the system is working as designed.

Hardly anyone says, this is not about criminality, but control.

DuVernay says it forcefully, explicitly and convincingly. In 13th — the
title comes from the constitutional amendment that ended slavery—the
director of Selma draws a line from Appomattox through convict leasing,
through lynch law, through the Southern strategy! , through mass incarcer-
ation, through the commodification of black bodies and black misery by
private prison entrepreneurs. All the way up to now.

Cue Donald Trump. On screen, a black man is being spat upon at one of his
rallies. A black woman is being shoved. A black man is being sucker
punched. And Trump is loving it.

"Knock the c--p out of ’em, would you? Get ’em out of here. In the good old
days, this doesn’t happen, because they used to treat them very, very
rough. And when they protested once, they would not do it again so easily.

Like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you."

As he speaks, the images change.

It’s 1965 and Rev. C.T. Vivian is being knocked down the courthouse steps.

It’s 1960 and protesters are! being hauled off lunch counter stools. It’s
1957 and reporter L. Alex Wilson is being kicked and pummeled down the
streets by the good people of Little Rock.

All as Trump is reminiscing about the good old days. And a chill skitters
up your spine.

We like to think we have distance from the past, don’t we? We profess to be
mystified by it. How could people have done such things? If I had lived at
that time, a man will assure you, I’d have never tolerated it. But, as
attorney and author Bryan Stevenson reminds DuVernay’s camera, "the truth
is, we are living at this time — and we are tolerating it."

It is an unanswerable truth, a truth that leaves conscience maimed. The
credits roll just then.

And yes, you are thankful for that small bit of grace! .

Readers may email Leonard Pitts at lpitts at miamiherald.com.


LEONARD PITTS

COMMENTARY

In 13th , the troubling new documentary from director Ava DuVernay now
streaming on Netflix, the American prison industrial complex is laid bare
as a machine designed for the suppression of an inconvenient populace.
Meaning black men — the nation’s boogeymen for two centuries and counting.

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