The film focuses closely on how the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution, which abolished slavery, included language that sowed the seeds for mass criminalization and imprisonment of people of color.
But while it has been critically acclaimed, the Selma director concedes Americans won’t change until they learn to discuss the country’s painful past, and learn how to remember it, like countries such as Germany and South Africa.
When asked in an interview with The Guardian if she thinks 13th will help Americans face up to the legacy of slavery, Compton born DuVernay answers:
“The sad truth is… that some minds just will not be changed.”
However, the director, who has been a staunch critic of U.S. President Donald Trump, believes Americans can learn from the examples of countries like Germany and South Africa, who have reckoned with their own painful legacies.
Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its collaborators killed an estimated six million Jews in The Holocaust between 1933 and 1945, and South Africa’s system of Apartheid institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination between 1948 and 1991, when it was abolished.
“It might help all of us to once in a while get outside of the United States itself, like go to South Africa or Germany. Because inherent in the very cultural fabric there, you have a sense of the past and of reckoning with it, saying, ‘This happened, and we will bear witness and we will learn from it, we will speak it and say that it happened and we will remember it.’”, she suggests. “And we don’t do that here, so we can’t even have a real conversation about it. Because we have not been taught to talk to each other, and we have not been taught to remember.”