Watch: Ava DuVernay on Mass Incarceration, White Fear and Black Joy

Director Ava DuVernay speaks at the 54th New York Film Festival Opening Night Gala Presentation and 13th world premiere Sept. 30, 2016, in New York City.
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

White fear exists. It has been manufactured, encouraged and proliferated through the centuries. From it spawned a damning system based on inequality: the prison-industrial complex.

“The reason that we have mass incarceration is because of white fear,” Ava DuVernay told The Root.


DuVernay is a prolific director, and her latest project is 13th. The sobering documentary focuses on the 13th Amendment—which abolished slavery—and its loophole, making slavery and involuntary servitude unconstitutional, except for punishment of a crime. This structure has made the prison-industrial complex the oppressive beast that corporations have profited from and that has been affecting black and brown people disproportionately.

The facts speak for themselves: One out of every 4 prisoners in the world is incarcerated in America, and 1 in 3 black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetimes. This exploitation is historic.

13th—which is the first documentary to open the New York Film Festival—premiered last week. And those who had the opportunity to bear witness received the film well: The documentary’s three showings received standing ovations each and every time.

13th is set to hit Netflix on Friday, and ahead of its release we sat down with the incomparable DuVernay to discuss white fear, working with Angela Davis and the importance of balancing black trauma with black joy.


Felice León is multimedia editor at The Root.

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