“The fact that it’s been so embraced, that it’s moved around the world. I can go anywhere in the world, talk anywhere in the world, and people lead with 13th, not Selma. Because Selma, A Wrinkle in Time, those films are not widely distributed, right? But 13th and When They See Us in over 200+ countries around the world, in the local language, that’s become what people know me for outside of the United States.”
It’s an unexpected revelation, although perhaps it shouldn’t be when one considers the breadth of Netflix’s reach as the primary streaming service across the globe. It also helps 13th’s timeliness appears to only increase with each passing year. Released in 2016, the documentary offered an extensive look at how the modern prison system began almost immediately after passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution permanently ended slavery. And through the decades and centuries that followed, the needs of each era found new ways to legally oppress Black bodies.
In the wake of a new wave of Black Live Matter protests this summer, following the death of George Floyd and other People of Color at the hands of police officers, the film’s prescience is as potent as ever. Consider the film featured a montage of the violent rhetoric embraced by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and juxtaposed it with the type of violence used against Black Civil Rights protestors during the 1960s.
sun was at the 13th premiere at the New York Film Festival when DuVernay said, “Will it still be relevant next year when we know which one of the candidates [will be president], is it still going to be relevant 10 years from now?” She suspected it would, and that it will have more historical importance a decade onward “because he’s taking this country to a place that is going to be long-studied, considered for a long time. It’s going to have repercussions past this moment.”
It’s a sentiment DuVernay renewed during her latest TIFF conference in 2020.