Ava DuVernay will make history when her documentary exploring mass incarceration and racial inequality opens this year’s New York Film Festival. The annual event will begin Sept. 30 and run through Oct. 16. “The 13th” – named after the 13th amendment that abolished slavery – is the first nonfiction work to open the NYFF.
DuVernay called the announcement, made by the Film Society of Lincoln Center Tuesday, a “true honor.”
“This film was made as an answer to my own questions about how and why we have become the most incarcerated nation in the world,” she said on the Film Society website. “How and why we regard some of our citizens as innately criminal, and how and why good people allow this injustice to happen generation after generation. I thank [New York Film Festival Director and Selection Committee Chair] Kent Jones and the selection committee for inviting me to share what I’ve learned.”
The upcoming documentary is DuVernay’s first directing gig since 2014’s “Selma.” Like the film that followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, “The 13th” will look at those events along with others that came before and after it. Poignant events in American racial history – from 1915’s “The Birth of a Nation” to the Black Lives Matter movement – will trace patterns of fear and division that promote mass incarceration. Archival footage will be interspersed with interviews from Angela Davis, Van Jones and other activists and commentators – including formerly incarcerated men and women.
“Ava is actually trying to redefine the terms on which we discuss where we’re at, how we got here, and where we’re going,” Kent Jones said on the Film Society’s site. “The 13th is a great film. It’s also an act of true patriotism.”
The critically acclaimed director hopes the film will give viewers an idea of how to end systemically racist patterns.
“A certain part of our population has been demonized for the benefit of private industry and politicians, and a lot of forces that have nothing to do with, quote, ‘keeping people safe,’ ‘ DuVernay told The New York Times. “Once you know why we’re here and how we got here, we’re on more solid footing to walk ourselves out of this deep valley that we found ourselves in. That’s the hope.”
“The 13th” will premiere in limited theatrical release Oct. 7 and will be available to stream on Netflix the same day.