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The United States prison system has become a part of life for many people of color, considering that the nation has just five percent of the world’s population but over 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Selma Director Ava DuVernay examines the prison-industrial complex in her Netflix documentary, The 13th, which takes a serious look at how modern prisons are potentially exploiting a loophole in the 13th Amendment.

The 13th Amendment of the Constitution has a clause which states that slavery is illegal, except for criminals. This clause raises a concern in today’s criminal justice system that prisons have become nothing more than modern day slave quarters. As DuVernay’s dcoumentary reveals, large-scale manual labor akin to corporate warehouses and manufacturing centers or even sweatshops takes place behind prison walls. Their cheap labor supports industries that prisoners can neither support nor enjoy.

DuVernay’s film also highlights that the number of Black prisoners exceeds the number of enslaved Blacks in the 1850s, an astonishing revelation that many Americans are largely unaware of.

The 13th is the first documentary to open the New York Film Festival. It is available for viewing on Netflix.

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