Directed By: Ava DuVernay

Plot: Chronicles the continued oppression of black lives, from slavery all through today, explaining how the system is used against them, creating a modern day slavery. The film uses both historical facts and talking heads to drive home the point.

What Works: Pretty much everything. I definitely felt educated afterward, which is almost always a necessity with a documentary. You should feel like you learned something, even in the most basic doc. DuVernay makes good use of two hours, though I have a feeling she would have wanted more time to tell an even more in-depth examination. However, the runtime here makes it accessible to more viewers, so its a trade off. Definitely one of the strongest documentaries I’ve seen in a while, though I admittedly only see a handful each year. I absolutely agree with most of what this film has to offer, in terms of opinion, and I feel more informed on the topic.

What Doesn’t: At some points in the film, it seems as though the film is trying to suggest that going to jail on drug violations is a bad thing. Do we put people in jail for way longer than they should be? Absolutely. And drug legalization would be an entirely different documentary. I would have just shifted the tone more toward the mandatory minimums, and away from the unfairness of being arrested for possessing an illegal substance. This film used so many “talking heads” that I literally couldn’t keep track. I either needed a more formal introduction from them about who they were, and why they were here, or a continued presence of their name/occupation on the screen. Some people speak first, and are introduced on their second or third speaking, and it takes a while to know who they are. It’s a little thing, for sure, but it would have made the viewing easier.

Final Word: An absolute must-see. Probably the best documentary of the year (I hope it is eligible for Oscar consideration), and a powerful reminder of inequality in America. And it’s on Netflix, so what’s stopping you?


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