I don’t think I have ever more emotionally devastated by a documentary before.
Personal feelings aside, I still think this was a really well made documentary, incorporating interviews, found footage, contemporary media from every time period discussed (music, news reports, political speeches, etc.). It really uses everything at its disposal to create a sort of collage of history; a history of America that the history books leave out.
The 13th amendment to the U.S. constitution is what the documentary takes its name after. This amendment helped to abolish slavery in America, with one exception: prisoners. The documentary traces this loophole in the amendment and its effects on people of color throughout recent history to show how the mass incarceration (particularly aimed at non-white people) is basically a sort of postcolonial slavery. If imprisonment is now another word for slavery, then the war on drugs, segregation, and any other form of oppression is an excuse for being racist.
The most powerful point in the film for me was the sequence crosscutting between a speech Trump gives at a very recent rally for his presidential campaign with images of violence against black people from the 1950s. Literally, nothing has changed between then and now. It was so powerful for me because of how recent the events shown are and how much violence blacks and all people of color experience.
Whatever your political views are, I think it is necessary for everyone to watch this documentary. DuVernay interviews a variety of people, giving us a lot of different perspectives that all really lead to one conclusion: American politics are corrupt and are working against low class citizens and people of color.