13TH opened the 54th NewYork Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall on Friday night and I had the good fortune escort my amazing, politically conscious and thoughtful 15 year old niece Magda.
It is the first documentary ever to open the film festival, and was chosen for its compelling narrative. It had been made very quietly under the radar, by film director, Ava DuVernay (who also happens to be directing the upcoming adaptation of my grandmother's book, A Wrinkle in Time) and "13TH" refers to the 13th 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.”
This documentary comes at an important time in our political history, after eight years of our first black president, where some of us have hoped we would be able to live in a color-blind world.
Our myopia is shattered as wishful thinking: Ms. Duvernay explores through interviews and archived footage, how the 13th amendment re-enslaved African-Americans and criminalized a whole segment of the population of the United States. The documentary as nothing less than astonishing, infuriating, and galvanizing and at times I was moved to tears. Drawing a line from slavery to counter-reconstruction, to Jim Crow, to The Southern Strategy to The Crime Bill, "13TH" tells a compelling story that demands a response.
This New York Times Review sums up her argument: "The United States did not just criminalize a select group of black people. It criminalized black people as a whole, a process that, in addition to destroying untold lives, effectively transferred the guilt for slavery from the people who perpetuated it to the very people who suffered through it."
Magda, who can fairly represent the views of every teen I know (and as a teacher, I know a great many!) is as troubled by this as I am, so everyone needs to see this movie (available on Netflix October 7th) with their families before going to the polls on November 8th so that we can begin to have deeper conversations about this. And also make some necessary institutional changes.
Don't forget to vote on Tuesday, November 8th!
Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.
"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.