Ava DuVernay made history when she became the first woman of color to direct a film nominated for Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards; the nomination was for “Selma,” a film about Martin Luther King Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery.
DuVernay’s latest project “13th” returns to racial inequality, this time focusing directly on the U.S. Constitution. The title refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery “except as a punishment for crime.”
DuVernay explores this loophole in her documentary and relates it to the current mass incarceration issue. In the film she lays out a timeline of racial bias in this country, from the time of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation” to the civil rights movement and the most recent police killings of black men.
DuVernay admitted this was one of the most emotional projects for her to work on.
“The wrangling of the archival footage took the most time,” she told CBS News. “It was somewhere like one thousand hours of footage we went through. I cried a lot making this film, I’m now in a self-care moment.”
In addition to spending countless hours watching powerful archival footage, she also made the difficult decision to use the raw videos circulating on social media of young men killed by police including Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Laquan McDonald.
Given the film’s timely release during the presidential election, she chose to include both nominees in the documentary. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, video from a Donald Trump rally is spliced with grainy imagery of white men attacking a black journalist during the civil rights era.
DuVernay explained why she chose to include the current presidential candidates.
“The interesting thing for me was that I could show where both candidates stood without showing the context of their candidacy,” she said. “In their public lives they have each touched on this issue in serious ways. This happened years and years before anyone was thinking about the presidency but it’s part of the tapestry of talking about this issue.”
In the film, she combines archival footage and testimony from various activists, politicians, historians and previously incarcerated women and men.
Several other names and faces are listed on the screen in the film, many of whom have died as recently as a few weeks back.
“I basically finished the film just days ago,” DuVernay responded when asked how she knew when the film was complete. “I remember the most recent shootings happened maybe two days after I ‘locked picture.’ I remember talking to my editors saying I need to open my cut, and I just remember I couldn’t get them in and breaking down just thinking they were not in it. My mother said to me, ‘Ava it’s never going to be updated, they are never all going to be in it.’ So that was rough to know it will never be complete because there will always be someone that is not up there.”
“13th” begins streaming on Netflix Friday October 7th.