“13th: From Slave to Criminal with One Amendment”

Graduate programs screened “13th: From Slave to Criminal with One Amendment” with efforts to address a critical social issue. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

By Cindy Sanawong

Staff Reporter

Sacred Heart University’s Media Literacy and Digital Culture Graduate Program screened Ava DuVernay’s Netflix Original Documentary, “13th: From Slave to Criminal with One Amendment” on Tuesday, March 28 in the Martire Media Theatre.

Hosted by Dr. Bill Yousman, Assistant Professor and Director of the MLDC Graduate Program, the event was part of Sacred Heart’s Social Justice Week, in an effort to address social issues.

According to Netflix, “13th” is a thought-provoking documentary where scholars, activists and politicians analyze the criminalization of African Americans and the United States prison boom.

“‘13th’ does an amazing job of bringing the history of mass incarceration in the U.S. to light and showing the racial bias in America’s criminal justice system,” said Yousman. “Most people are not aware that America has only 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. We lead the world in incarcerating our own people.”

Named after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the film is told in chronological history of racial issues, equality and social justice.

“Eye opening on how systematic oppression always was and continues to evolve thorough political loop-holes,” said junior Ibrahim Fisiru. “Something that needs to be played close attention to and addressed.”

The film talks about the many new forms of slavery that started after its abolishment. From convict leasing and lynching in the Reconstruction Era to the Jim Crow
system, African Americans were given a permanent second-class status in America.

Decades after the collapse of the Jim Crow system, mass incarceration was reborn. “13th” provides statistics of mass incarceration in the U.S. which now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

“I found this film really interesting and important to be shared,” said senior Lindsay Cometz. “Although many people know injustices happen, this film really forces you to open your eyes to it, and it’s hard to swallow.”

The film describes how federal prisoners are basically slave criminals of the state. This means that they are treated in dehumanizing ways and are essentially “profit laborers,” benefiting the economy. Some of the manufacturing labors that are produced for many well-known companies are labored from state prison inmates.

Winning 17, “13th” was nominated for 35 awards, including an Oscar for “Best Documentary Feature” at the 89th Academy Awards.

“I thought this was a really eye opening film in so many different ways,” said senior graduate Erin Smith. “The film did a great job of tying today’s issues to issues that have always been prevalent in our society. I think it is really important to see how they have always been around.”

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