There are movies that I love unreservedly, quoting them with the hopped-up reverence of a devoted Bible thumper. 13th is a movie that I wield. Since viewing Ava DuVernay’s exceptional documentary on — for starters — the perpetuation of black persecution through the establishment of a skewed judicial system and incarceration complex, I find myself continually referencing it in spirited debates about current affairs. I have operated in multiculturally mindful academia and engaged with leftward political commentary enough to be comfortably acquainted with notions of institutionalized oppression, so there’s little in 13th that is fully revelatory to me. But I have rarely encountered a more persuasive presentation of the bigoted ills that still plague the nation and the foundational messaging that keeps them riveted in place. DuVernay’s cinematic scholarship is dizzying, enlivening, and resoundingly powerful. She begins with the socio-political argument that modern legal structures are just another variant on the demeaning laws against black Americans that have been insidiously reinvented with the certainty of perennial flora since the last bullet of the Civil War fell to earth. From there, she skillfully traces every tributary of her main argument, delivering a dire atlas of a society instinctively unwilling to transcend its base prejudices. Incorporating wise assessments of an array of fierce thinkers — Michelle Alexander and Van Jones stand out — DuVernay present a compelling, rattling thesis. 13th is vital.

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