Next week, a new doc called ‘13TH’ comes to Netflix and it has a disturbing question at its heart. Why do black men make up 40.2 percent of the US prison population but only 6.5 percent of the general US population?
Those figures mean that, while white American men have a one-in-17 chance of going to jail during their lifetime, black men have a one in three chance of being incarcerated.
‘13TH’ puts these staggering facts in historical context. It shows how severe inequality has persisted far beyond the end of slavery and the gains of the 1960s civil rights movement. ‘13TH’ also tracks the political decisions that have led to the US prison population growing from 346,000 people in 1968 to a whopping two million people in 2000.
The doc is directed by Ava DuVernay, who in 2014 made ‘Selma’, which starred the British actor David Oyelowo as Dr Martin Luther King. Once DuVernay finished 'Selma', she spent two years quietly making ‘13TH’ and gathering facts about the history of racial inequality in modern America and the growth of prison numbers over the past few decades. She also saw the film as a contribution to the growing Black Lives Matter movement.
‘After shooting “Selma”, I was in the cutting room editing the movie when Ferguson was happening,' DuVernay told us in a recent interview.
‘We were cutting footage of Martin Luther King reacting to the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson in 1965 and seeing him marching, protesting and resisting. Then we were seeing the same thing with Michael Brown [who was shot dead by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014] and the people of Ferguson marching, protesting and resisting. The parallels illustrated how far we have not come.’
DuVernay also told us that her own personal experiences have informed the film.
‘I grew up in Compton in Los Angeles. I saw first-hand a lot of the issues that we explore – the way that black communities are policed. I’ve always been an admirer of filmmakers who make docs around this subject, and I always thought: what if there was a primer that pulled all of this together? It felt like it was something I could do.’
'13TH' has its UK premiere on Thursday October 6 as the Time Out gala at the London Film Festival. It will be released on Netflix worldwide on Friday October 7.