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Celebrating Black History Month serves as an opportunity for recognizing the achievements and culture of black people in America. It also serves as an opportunity to face the truth of the history of black Americans.

Director Ava DuVernay released 13th in 2016, a documentary that does exactly this. 13th delves into the American prison system and finds itself staring American racism in the face. 

The film, which won BAFTA's Best Documentary award, spends an hour and 45 minutes examining mass incarceration in America, which is historically racially-targeted.

Featuring activists like Senator Cory Booker, Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander and Henry Louis Gates, 13th dives deep into the prison system with the highest rate of incarceration in the world: the American prison system. 

The documentary, which was named after the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that grants freedom to all Americans “except as punishment for a crime,” opens with President Barack Obama claiming that America holds 5% of the world’s population, yet houses 25% of the world’s prisoners in its prisons. 

With an examination of Jim Crow Laws, segregation, the war on drugs, the war on crime, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), police brutality and many more forms of incriminating African Americans, this documentary is a must-see for Black History Month. 

The film does exactly what Black History Month sets out to do: celebrates the history of African Americans. 13th also expands the celebration of Black History Month by providing a deeper understanding of the current state of African American culture. 

13th acknowledges the fact that the majority of Americans in the prison system are black people, primarily black men, that have been incriminated on the premise of their race.

“There’s no understanding of American political culture without race at the center of it,” Khalil G. Muhammad said, a professor of history, race and public policy at Harvard University. 

DuVernay’s film uniquely emphasizes the language of American culture that has contributed to this mass incarceration. It weaves visuals of song lyrics, quotes and transcripts into the documentary, highlighting the power of words as a contribution to incrimination. 

Black History Month cannot be truly celebrated without both celebrating the positive and acknowledging the negatives of black history and culture in America. Nor can it be observed without understanding the current state of black culture in America, including the criminalization of African Americans. 

The black student organizations on campus are holding a movie viewing of 13th on Feb. 13 at 5:30 p.m. in DSU Niteclass. It will be followed by a discussion led by WKU Director of African-American Studies Dr. Saundra Ardrey. 

Features reporter Julianna Lowe can be reached at 270-745-6291 and julianna.lowe253@topper.wku.edu. Follow Julianna on social media at @juliannalowe.

 

Julianna Lowe is a features reporter for the College Heights Herald.