Watch: Ava DuVernay on 13th, Her Life's Work and Magnifying the Beauty of Black People

Director Ava DuVernay attends the 2015 Sundance Institute Celebration Benefit at 3Labs June 2, 2015, in Culver City, Calif.
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Some might call Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th prophetic.

In just over 90 minutes, DuVernay traces the decisions, going as far back as the end of slavery, that led to the creation of the monstrosity known as the prison-industrial complex—and, thus, explains how it is that modern-day slavery exists. Telling the stories of black and brown people is what she was born to do.


The day after Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States, stock in private prisons skyrocketed. As 1 out of every 4 prisoners in the world are incarcerated in America, and 1 in 3 black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetimes, the stock rise is chilling, especially for black and brown people living in the U.S. But what are the implications?

“It means that everything that’s predicted in the documentary … it’s all going to come to pass,” DuVernay told The Root.


Still, the trailblazing filmmaker remains optimistic: “Stocks in private prison rose, but the fact that so many people know what that meant, and called it out, and had a context for what’s happening denotes change.”

Audience response is a reflection of that change. 13th has already won the Critics' Choice Documentary Awards, among others, and the film is also on the Oscar short list for best documentary, along with Not Your Negro and O.J.: Made in America. Making the short list will perhaps lead to a nomination (we'll find out Jan. 24), which, in turn, will lead to an Oscar.


But while this hypothetical win for DuVernay and 13th may offer hope, and mean that a change is gonna come to the academy after a few years of #OscarsSoWhite, DuVernay doesn't make films looking for awards or recognition. Filmmaking is her life's work. “My striving for excellence is divorced from anything I think will come out of it for me,” she said.

The Root sat down with the prolific screenwriter and director to discuss 13th in the era of Trump, being the first African-American woman to direct a $100 million film (Disney's A Wrinkle in Time, slated for release in 2018) and the significance of an Oscar win.


Felice León is multimedia editor at The Root.

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