13th Documentary Essay Examples and Topics

Essay Examples
Essay Topics
Brief overview


Created by

Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick




Crime film/history

Major Characters

The 13th Documentary features several political figures in the US, activists, public figures, and educators. The major figures featured are Cory Booker, Angela Davis, Van Jones, Michelle Alexander, Jelani Cobb, Bryan Stevenson, And Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Based on

The 13th Documentary is based on the 13th amendment of the US constitution which was ratified in 1865. The amendment abolished slavery and slaves thought they were eternally free but they were wrong. It was the beginning of another form of legal slavery acceptable in criminal punishment.


The major political figures, activists, and influential personalities are used as symbols in the 13th Documentary. Figures like Hillary Clinton and Martin Luther are used to provide a persuasive voice to the audiences. Images of the constitution and recordings from the archives have been used too.


Compared to the global human population, the US makes up 5 percent. Surprisingly, 25 percent of world prisoners are in the US. 40 percent of the prisoners in the US are black. The 13th Documentary looks closely at the inequalities both historical and present.


The 13th Documentary focuses on historical racial discrepancies in the US. Ava DuVernay particularly focuses on the nation’s prisons. His main issue is the racial inequalities in criminal punishment where the majority of the prisoners are Black Americans.

Why is this topic important

The 13th constitutional amendment is important because it abolished slavery. The 13th Documentary details the contents of the amendment. It provides information that although the amendment freed the slaves, there is widespread slavery in the form of justice. Many black men are in prison due to minor offenses or for no offense.

Main Ideas

The 13th Documentary’s main ideas revolve around issues of mass incarceration in the US, INJUSTICES, and race.

Key Quotes
  • Martin Luther King Jnr: “Over delayed justice is justice denied.”
  • Michelle Alexander: “The jails have thousands of people right now sitting there just because they are too poor to get out.”
  • Barack Obama: “5 percent of the world population is in the US, but it’s home to 25 percent of global prisoners. Think about that.”
Interesting facts
  • In the 1970s, the prison population in the US was about 327,000. In 2022, there are more than 2 million prisoners in the USA.
  • The US makes up 5 percent of the world population but 25 percent of prisoners in the world.
  • The 13th constitutional amendment free slaves but the law created another form of slavery
  • The majority of the prisoners today are there due to minor offenses.
Why should this topic be used

The 13th Amendment shows how the US prisons changed following the Civil War. It details how the prison system began to be used as a way to get laborers for free. The amendment freed everyone from slavery except those imprisoned.

Arguments for

The major argument in the 13th Documentary is that imprisonment and mass incarceration are a slavery extension. Criminalization has persistently been part of anti-black racism.

Arguments against

The argument that states prisoners work for the government through state leasing can be argued against. The argument suggests that the prisoners earn income for the government but they earn nothing.

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