Filmmaker Ava DuVernay explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the fact that the nation’s prisons are disproportionately filled with African-Americans.  This amazing director, producer and film writer has cone an amazing job with this emotional documentary.  

I walked into this documentary with a mind set that I knew about the prison industrial complex and how businesses took advantage of the privatization of the system. So I thought I was going to be reviewing my facts and brush through this documentary like thanks for the review. Well the sad part is, you should never assume anything. You learn something new every day and history repeats its self in different forms. What I found out during the opening statements of the documentary was I didn’t really know what the 13th admendment consisted of. Here it is and what I missed:

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution declared that “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.” Formally abolishing slavery in the United States, the 13th Amendment was passed by the Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified by the states on December 6, 1865

So as the documentary started showing how the south put in rules like the Black Codes. These laws passed by Southern states in 1865 and 1866, after the Civil War had the intent and the effect of restricting African Americans’ freedom, and of compelling them to work in a labor economy based on low wages or debt. Black Codes were part of a larger pattern of Southern whites trying to suppress the new freedom of emancipated African American slaves, the freedmen. The defining feature of the Black Codes was broad vagrancy law, which allowed local authorities to arrest freed people for minor infractions and commit them to involuntary labor. This period was the start of the convict lease system

That was the system of keeping African Americans in bondage to continue to make profits. The second system was the Peonage law. Southern business owners obviously wasn’t going to follow any laws against their profit marbins so they created a profitable arrangement of slavery with a system called peonage, in which (disproportionately African Americans) workers were stuck with loans and forced to work indefinitely because of their debt. Peonage continued through Reconstruction and ensnared a large proportion of African American workers in the South. These workers remained destitute and persecuted, forced to work dangerous jobs and further confined legally by the racist Jim Crow laws that governed the South. This brings us back to the prison system. Based on the highlighted portion in the 13th admendment. The government was allowed to have prisoners under the system of slavery or a nicer moniker, under involuntary servitude. The documentary goes into how the movie “birth of a nation” by d.w. griffith shows how the movie denegrated African Americans as sex craved animals with every sterotype known to black people. It also showed how the Klu Klux Klan showed up to be the heros to save the white women from being raped by a black man. The film was screened at the white house for Woodrow Wilson. So what do you think that sends to the country about African Americans? The documentary proceeds what African American had to go through during the time the government stood on the side line while people were being abused on the state level denying them equal treatment and their voting rights. During the early 1900’s, we see the lynching and abuse perpertrated by the Klan and others who wanted to curb the behavior of African Americans. Even during this time, African Americans were still be incarcerated for petty crimes but what turned the prison system into a targeted weapon for minorities was Nixon’s decision to go after criminal activity and drugs. Nixon advisors even stated they would be targeting black people. Then the next president Reagan, talked about having a stronger tone on crime and the drug war. What made policy so divisive is it centered on minorities and not all aspects of the drug war operations. The documentary shows the media showing African Americans being arrested for all types crimes that reenforced the new policies to go after this black criminal element. So when the politicians began running again for the presidency and congress, both parties stepped up with policies that would keep america safe and based on the rhetoric from the politicians and the images by the media, these policies were written. The democrates supported Clinton with his two most devastating polices. Mandatory sentencing and the 3 strike rule. The documentary showed that from the early 70’s to the current 2010’s. The prison population went from low 500k to over 2.2 million. Not because of the increase in crime but because of these draconian laws that not only stripped them of their voters rights but kept them in a system that left them eligible for forced labor.  

I stated all of this to bring you to the current situation. Businesses profiting from incarcerations and the privitatizing of the prison system that are currently using laws to have inmates work for businesses like Wal-mart and Victoria Secrets. It showed the impact of private companies over charging families, inmates and supplying shoddy services to inmates. It is frighting and uncomfortable to know that laws like these are holding back minorities and a system is in place that can be used for profit and reduce the voter roll by having more people incarcerated with criminal records. This is the harsh reality of understanding and doing more about who are your representatives as well as knowing the law when you are dealing with the law. A strong, sad and important documentary that should be seen by all. Understanding each other and what has been feed to all of us (regardless of ethnicity). This realization showed me this was very important and how this film has taught me a lot.