What Does The 13th Amendment Say? The Trailer For Ava DuVernay's Netflix Documentary '13th' Illuminates Why It's Problematic

The purpose of the Amendments of the Constitution of the United States was to ensure that the American people were guaranteed certain rights. The 13th Amendment is perhaps the most historically significant and necessary Amendment of all in that its adoption in 1865 abolished slavery. However, while most of us were taught about all of the good things that the 13th Amendment brought following the Civil War, few people were taught of the problematic nature of the Amendment. Now, Selma director Ava DuVernay is tackling that very topic in her new Netflix documentary. The new trailer for DuVernay's 13th explains what the 13th Amendment actually says, and how it connects to the mass incarceration of black Americans today.

One thing that isn't explored is how while the 13th Amendment does abolish slavery in the traditional sense, it doesn't abolish it entirely. Here is the official text of the Amendment:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

This is what DuVernay's new film is about: how, despite the abolishment of slavery, black people — mostly, though not exclusively, black men — became victims of a different kind of dangerous system. The new trailer for 13th, which features commentary from activists like The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age Of Colorblindness author Michelle Alexander, shows how the system of mass incarceration in the United States hurts black communities by imprisoning black men at an alarming rate. DuVernay's documentary argues that the media portrayal of black men as violent predators caused them to be targeted by law enforcement, and allowed for their sentences to be far greater than the crime deserved. At the end of the trailer, an alarming statistic is raised: there are more African Americans under criminal supervision in the United States than all the slaves in the 1850s.

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This won't be the first time DuVernay tackled issues related to the prison system: her narrative feature, Middle Of Nowhere , showed how a black woman's life changed dramatically when her husband was put behind bars. Middle Of Nowhere was a smaller story, but it's one of many that come out of the prison system which, as the documentary intends to show, hurts black families due to roots tied in racism. For people who assume the punishment always fits the crime in our legal system, the 13th should be a thought-provoking — and hopefully alarming — look at both our history and our present.