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Under Her Eye review: 13th

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Read the shortlisted Under Her Eye reviews then vote for your favourite.

As part of Stylist’s Under Her Eye initiative, we’re on the hunt for three new female film critics. We asked aspiring reviewers to send in a 450-word review of their favourite film – and after an overwhelming response, we’ve whittled it down to a shortlist of 20. 

Read one woman’s review of 13th below and click here to see the other entries and vote for your favourite.

We have all heard the phrase; history is written by the winners, but this documentary convinces us that history is in fact written by white people. Ava DuVernay - in her top form - skilfully crafts the documentary to show the disturbing amount of racism that still exists in the US. She draws parallels between the current system of racial hierarchy and the US penal system that is no different to slavery.

The film’s title is a direct reference to the 13th amendment, which outlawed slavery but left a huge number in an obviously precarious position. Using chronology, the film shows how one president after another took egregious steps to make the lives of African-American people excruciating. We question whether black people have ever in fact been relieved of the second-class citizen status that they have been branded by since the first black people were abducted from Africa.

There is obvious resentment towards the lawmakers evident in the documentary, yet DuVernay never lets that distort her message. She relies on the talking-head interviews of eloquent scholars and journalists who are well aware of the topic. Archive material is used to show graphically how the abolishment of slavery gave politicians and police the loophole to first allow segregation.

The figures shown on screen are the most memorable part of the documentary: the US makes up 5% of the world’s population yet has 25% of the world’s prisoners. Prisons have become plantations as the prisoners serve as cheap labour and just like slaves are stripped of their basic rights to vote. 

The documentary digresses when DuVernay delves into issues like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). It feels forced and not as important as the other issues she highlights.

The Oscar-nominated documentary makes the issues clear, concise and dramatic and DuVernay creatively uses archive footage to highlight a correlation between incarceration and black people in the US. DuVernay shows footage of then first lady Hilary Clinton using the term “super predator” to describe black criminals in the 1990s, followed by footage of Donald Trump asking his supporters to violently assault a black activist. As a minority viewer the film touches upon a sense of wronging that many of us face on a daily basis. DuVernay’s bold, yet analytical take on the subject shows honesty and pride in her community, with courage in tackling such a difficult subject.

The most shocking part of the film comes when you realise that we’re no better than the people who tolerated slavery and did not stand up against it. Instead of standing up against the injustice towards the African-American community Americans have gone ahead and elected Donald Trump.

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