13th Documentary: the Recorded History of Black Discrimination

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“That's why when someone asks me about violence, I just find it incredible because what it means is that the person who's asking that question has absolutely no idea what black people have gone through, what black people have experienced in this country since the time the first black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.” - Angela Davis, 13th The documentary “13th” was written by Ava DuVernay. This documentary went deep into how the prison systems were in the United States and how racial inequality was a part of this. The documentary talks about how African Americans were treated poorly and how they were enslaved most of their lives.

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When the Civil War ended in 1865, the 13th Amendment was passed. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery. All African Americans were free of enslavement. If you were in jail this event didn’t apply to you. Slavery was abolished for everyone except criminals. DuVernay shows how slavery has been practiced since the end of the American Civil War. African Americans were arrested because of simple things such as loitering. While African Americans served time in prison, they had to provide free labor for the state. The 13th demonstrates that criminalization continues to rise and that it is a feature of racism. One of the facts the was stated in 13th was that “1 in 3 African Americans will go to jail in their lifetime, while 1 in 17 White Americans will go to jail.” This fact shows how the criminal justice system is unfair and how racism continues.

Slavery being banned, whites found many other ways to shame African Americans and make them look like less of human beings. African Americans were called “super predators.” White people had lynchings and the Jim Crow Law. This issue was to make the blacks defenseless. DuVernay states that blacks were said to be out of control and how they were a threat to white women. In the documentary 13th, they stated that Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi because a white woman was offended by him and come to find out that Emmett was innocent. This documentary makes so that the Jim Crow Laws, drug bust, and segregation all are variations of dominations of blacks.

An interviewee in the film says, “Demographic geography of this country was shaped but this era. They did not go there as immigrants looking for jobs, but as refugees.” This is something like the Great Migration. Factors that pushed them away was racial injustice and the threat of violence. The 13th states that “this was not just a civil rights movement, but a human rights movement.” The film 13th reveals a lot while also working its way to the current days of Black Lives Matter. This generation has it a lot easier than our ancestors who were enslaved but, the question “are we completely free?” is still a question that stands out. Change must come from the heart of Americans; we are the only ones that can create change.

The director Ava DuVernay’s purpose was to enlighten the public about the system’s prejudice, mainly for the black communities. She uses ethos, logos, and pathos to form an argument that she advertises successfully. Ava’s goal to educate people on the struggles of minorities in the United States was achieved by the graphic images and powerful words expressed in the documentary.

The most powerful rhetorical strategy used in this documentary is pathos. The persistent imagery and fascinating facts demonstrated, intrigued to the emotional factor of the audience. Images of slaves and black people imprisoned showed throughout the documentary impacted the audience in an emotional way because it's for people to see things like that and to know that they happened. Pictures of lynchings produce an emotion of anger that contributes to the goal of the documentary. Racial issues negatively affected black people. In the documentary it showed a Donald Trump rally, and it connected it to past racism events. They showed videos of unarmed black men being shot down by police and it created and outrage around the message to make it powerful.

The rhetorical strategy ethos, the form of persuading the audience with credible sources with speeches of historical figures. Many presidential speeches were shown throughout the documentary as a trustworthy source that appeals to ethos. Influential historical people such as Martin L. King, Fred Hampton and Angela Davis were included in this documentary. The use of these historical figures was also used to create a sense of trust because all those individuals are recognizable amongst the public, and it is easy to trust someone that is known who is speaking on their struggles as a minority. The director contributed reliable sources that would be experts in the subject such as attorneys and their view on the issues. When the director presented ALEC, she made sure to include that it was a corporation that influenced representatives, because she wanted to make sure that the audience knew her sources were reliable. Ethos was used many times along the film to impact the credibility of the documentary by not only presenting facts but also credible sources.

The main focus of the documentary, the 13th amendment, was a form of logos, the factual side. It is written in the constitution which governs everyone in the United States makes it a reliable source. Injustice is engraved into the United States constitution and that makes it even more so disturbing because discrimination towards minorities is in a sense legal which helps the director further her point. DuVernay states that “even though the United states only holds 6% of the world’s population it houses ¼ of the population in prison.” This shows that she is trying to get her point across through logos. DuVernay incorporates logos all throughout the documentary such as imprisonment statistics, laws, and stories of those affected which help reach the goal to educate the audience in a successful manner.

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