Combustible Celluloid
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With: Melina Abdullah, Michelle Alexander, Cory Booker, Dolores Canales, Gina Clayton, Jelani Cobb, Malkia Cyril, Angela Davis, Craig DeRoche, David Dinkins, Baz Dreisinger, Kevin Gannon, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Newt Gingrich, Lisa Graves, Van Jones
Written by: Spencer Averick, Ava DuVernay
Directed by: Ava DuVernay
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 100
Date: 10/07/2016

13th (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Business of Racism

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Ava Duvernay last brought us Selma (2014), an unexpectedly brilliant biopic of Martin Luther King Jr. and his 1965 march in Alabama to call attention to voting rights. In a controversial Oscar season, her film won an Oscar for Best Song, and received a nomination for Best Picture, and nothing else. Now Duvernay takes off the gloves and offers 13th (2016), a shattering, essential new documentary. While the end of slavery and the beginning of the Civil Rights movement were great moments in American history, Duvernay's film argues that they are connected by a long string of whites in power, cultivating a fear of black people and using that fear to acquire not only more power, but wealth.

Named after the thirteenth amendment of the constitution, the movie argues that since slavery was a financial situation, the U.S.A. needed a way to regain those lost profits, and the wording of the amendment itself — "except as a punishment for crime" — provided the answer. In order to make money from a prison system, fear of African-Americans had to be created and spread. The film makes strong connections between many events of history, beginning with the amendment in 1865, including D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, activities of most of the U.S. Presidents, the "War on Drugs," and up to today. (Eugene Jarecki's excellent doc The House I Live In covered this territory, too, but Duvernay takes it much further.) Many scholars, a few politicians, and Angela Davis herself are interviewed, and the presentation is thorough, calm, logical, and devastating. It's an absolute must-see.

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