How did you feel after viewing 13th? Did you feel helpless, inspired, stirred to action, or a combination of all three? Do you think the message of the film was ultimately hopeful? Why or why not?

In this assignment you are to respond to 6 questions relating to your reading in Davis and the documentary, “13th” (that we will watch in class Thursday, December 3rd.) Netflix has made this important film free for all online (not just Netflix subscribers), so if you would like to watch again at home.

1. How did you feel after viewing 13th? Did you feel helpless, inspired, stirred to action, or a combination of all three? Do you think the message of the film was ultimately hopeful? Why or why not?

2. This documentary emphasizes that the current crisis of mass incarceration is directly tied to our country’s legacy and history of slavery. By showing how slavery shifted to convict leasing, to Jim Crow segregation, to the war on drugs, 13th argues that “systems of oppression are durable and they often reinvent themselves.” As Angela Davis stated in the film, “Historically, when one looks at efforts to create reforms, they inevitably lead to more repression.”

What are ways you can end this cycle? What do you think are some of the factors that allowed this system of racial control to simply evolve and replicate itself for the past 150 years? How can you be more vigilant against institutional racism?

3. How does 13th characterize our criminal justice system and political institutions? How did this film shape your understanding of the prison system? Was there a particular case or series of facts that altered or challenged any of your pre-existing views? Explain.

4. How much did you know about the war on drugs and war on crime before watching the film? Were you surprised to learn about the racial underpinnings of these legislative policies, and the active role of the state in criminalizing and targeting communities of color? What was your reaction after hearing the following quote from John Ehrlichman, one of Richard Nixon’s aides?:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

5. How do you think media and popular culture representations of Black Americans, particularly of Black men, have contributed to a dangerous climate of white fear and anxiety? (Think back to the way George Zimmerman was heard describing Trayvon Martin, or the media frenzy around the Central Park Five that resulted in their wrongful imprisonment.) How can we challenge these instances of racism and dehumanization?

6. Many politicians, including the Clintons, Newt Gingrich, and Charles Rangel in this film, have apologized for their role in promoting devastating “tough on crime” legislation. Considering the billions of dollars made off the imprisonment of people, the ongoing practice of prison labor, and the cases of unjust imprisonment (as in the tragic case of Kalief Browder), is an apology enough? Is our country compelled to repay these communities and families in a more material, restorative way? Why or why not?

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