One of the grimmest & most despicable subjects is granted one of the most stellar documentations from US director Ava DuVernay. 13th (a reference to the 13th Amendment which prohibits slavery, unless of course you’re a – convicted “criminal”, which then makes it apparently just fine) examines the USA’s screamingly-obscene prison industrial complex (the commercialization, cultivation & profiteering from mass incarceration by private companies & conglomerates) & the racism/racially prejudiced appendage that targets a grossly disproportionate demographic of black & latino people. the USA has a magical proclivity for having the worst/lowest standards in the Western world (food standards, environmental protection laws etc) demonstrated unmistakably here in the unimaginably sick over-incarceration, profit from punishment/privatized prisons & the proliferation of penal enterprise. Capitalism is bad enough, but this is it’s most perverse degree taken to it’s absolute darkest extreme – making it profitable to jail people & therefore detaining ever greater numbers through ever easier means.
It’s worth focusing on one particularly crucial section, spanning about ten minutes & concentrating on literally, one of the worst organizations in the history of humanity – the monstrous atrocity that is the American Legislation Exchange Council (ALEC). Some deem this forty-year-old abomination the most extreme consociation in America (& therefore the World). Essentially, it’s a herculean lobbying group consisting of politicians (overwhelmingly Republican), corporations, business moguls & legislators. It’s as bad as it sounds but quite probably worse, ALEC’s corrupt lobbying litany includes successfully compelling the legal adoption of the most incomprehensibly twisted & extremist laws relating to mass incarceration commerce such as the notorious “three strikes” & “mandatory minimums” legislation (not to mention the “stand your ground” law that George Zimmerman exploited successfully to gain acquittal for the murder of Trayvon Martin). Over the ten minutes, roughly the same quantity of commentators explicate ALEC & it’s actions. Interspersed with their break-down is extraordinary footage & dialogue from a willing ALEC representative –Michael Hough, who’s PR spiel remains one of the most unconvincing affairs I have ever witnessed (the PR itself is almost a smoking-gun scenario, it’s just the direst shit you will ever hear). It’s an incredible piece of film/reportage all the more relevant as ALEC & their cohorts get such little attention (the less the better, pure conspirational evasive murk). From a British perspective, it’s worth bellowing that Liam Fox, the disgraced Conservative MP who was bizarrely retrieved from the sewage & appointed ‘International Trade Secretary’ by Theresa May, is a staunch member of ALEC! Yes that’s correct, a member of ALEC! Think about that. & think also what the definition/qualifying features of/for ‘treason’ means to you.
I think the only flaw in this exemplary documentary is the musical score. It’s incessant throughout & is constantly proffering emotional mood pieces. It’s pretty competent sonically, but the constant intervention & excessive foisting of specific sentiments is a little gratuitous & dogmatic & it’s not like this supremely shocking stuff doesn’t speak perfectly well for itself. That aside, this is seminal work on a indescribably vile topic that’s escaped focus for far’ far too long.
As for America, it emerges as one of the least civilized countries on the planet. As the staticians iterate, “5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prison population”! Absolutely, totally & completely unbe-fucking-lievable!
Director – Ava DuVernay
Released on Netflix