The movie The 13th Amendment is a Netflix and Oscar nominated documentary that explores the intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the US. In this documentary scientists and politicians address the criminalization of African Americans and the tremendous growth of inmates in US prisons. The documentary is named after the thirteenth amendment to the United States Constitution. This amendment freed the slaves and forbid slavery, but had a loophole which made it legal to use criminals as slaves. After having watched this documentary it has made me realize that slavery is still going on. It has never really been abolished. Racial profiling today is alive and well in America still today.
Something that surprised me was that prison labour is legally required in America. Most convicted inmates either work for nothing or for pennies. There are many big companies that use prison labour. Prisoners are for example used to sew lingerie for the famous fashion company Victoria’s Secret. It’s like prisons are corporations.
Another thing that impacted me was the killing of Emmet Till. Emmet Till was only fourteen years old when he was brutally murdered for whistling at a white woman. His body was thrown in to the river where he was fished out three days later. Even though his corpse was mutilated, his mother still wanted his body to be on display at the funeral. She insisted on this so people could see this brutal hate crime. Although Till’s death is tragic, his death galvanized civil rights activists. The civil rights movement happened in the 1950s and 60s out of the desire for freedom and equality. It’s a movement that prohibited segregation and discrimination.
Another thing that indeed bewildered me was the story of Kalief Browder. Unfortunately he lost his life because of unjust imprisonment. At the age 16, Browder was charged with a crime he didn’t commit. As a result he was jailed for three years and two years after his release he hanged himself. This tells us that even when released, prison does irreparable damage to the mind, body and soul of the formerly incarcerated. It’s important that former inmates get access to mental health care when released.
In short, the new American slavery is brought to light in this documentary. The numbers of prisoners in America is really tremendous. Something needs to be done. Also racism is still a problem today even though there are different campaigns, movements and communities that work against this. And lastly history will repeat itself if we don’t learn about it. It is up to us if we want to change it. Therefore, it’s really important to understand the history of the time the civil rights movement shed light.