Ava DuVernay & “13th”

by | Jun 25, 2020 | Culture, Justice, Voices

Ava DuVernay’s documentary film “13th” explores the history of systemic racism in the United States, specifically in the prison system and prison-industrial complex. She takes us through a timeline of American history, showing each step that lead to the immensely corrupt prison system we have today. DuVernay paints this powerful picture using profound quotes from interviews with powerful public figures, as well as activists — many of these activists having been previously incarcerated. “13th” follows a growing list of award-winning films directed, written, or produced by DuVernay.

Promotional image for 13th documentaryI watched 13th a few weeks ago as a part of my personal racism education, and I was completely blown away. My jaw was dropped the entire film, each quote, fact, and statistic more heartbreaking than the last. It made me realize how embedded the prison system is within our society, and made me consider how I myself am supporting this horrible reality. I learned about some of the companies and corporations that use prison labor, companies that are so mainstream that I’m certain every single person in the country has supported them in some way — most of them without realizing the heavy reality behind their purchases. Because it is so integrated into our everyday lives, it will probably be impossible to completely remove myself from the systems, corporations, and companies that use or support prison labor, but I can sure as hell try.

I was very interested in ALEC, which I (as well as all my friends who I discussed the film with) had never heard of in my life. I was shocked and horrified to see how this private organization has so much impact on our government.

I am absolutely disgusted by America, and this reflection is only the tip of the iceberg of how I feel. I had to pause the film several times to process what was just said. For me, one of the most powerful parts was watching the prison population grow as presidents enacted more and more laws and policies directed towards black people/BIPOC and prisoners. It is mind blowing.

This documentary has inspired me to continue my personal education with renewed energy, filling in the gaps left by my high school U.S history classes. Going forward, I realize the importance of taking more history classes in college, in order to examine the injustices in America from a more focused, as well as varied, perspective.


  • Zoe Cowan

    Zoe is a college student who is passionate about anything related to the outdoors and the environment. In 2020 she was a summer intern for Turning Green and is continuing her work with the organization while she takes a gap semester.