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Ava DuVernay: the talented film director who calls her work her children

By Nina Steele 

Ava DuVernayAva DuVernay is widely regarded as one of the best female directors of her generation. Keen to make a difference through her work, she is not afraid to tackle the issue of race in America, which remains as potent today as it was during the civil rights movement. Her latest work is the documentary 13th. It focuses on the plight of minorities within the US penal system. I came across it by chance while on Netflix, and I am glad that I chose to watch it. It educates viewers on why America, with only 5% of the world population, accounts for 25% of its prisoners, and why a disproportionate number of these prisoners are black. Through the documentary, DuVernay shows us how America got to this point. From the part that slavery plays, to the fact that Jails have become big business, she leaves no stone unturned.

The documentary is an eye opener, particularly for anyone who does not fully understand American history. One of the many things I found quite shocking was the fact that 97% of all the inmates in US jails have never been tried. That’s because, what often happens is that, once people are arrested, they are made to choose between a plea bargain and going to trial. It is made clear to them that they are better off choosing a plea bargain, and that they will end up with a far greater sentence should they choose to go to trial. Sadly, because the majority of the people in the criminal justice system are poor, they inevitably choose the plea bargain option. Put bluntly, many of the people in US jails would not be in there if they had the money to pay for legal representation. One of the contributors sums it up rather well when he says that “wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes” in the American justice system.

That DuVernay managed to interview some very well-known figures for her documentary from both sides of the political spectrum, including revered political activist Angela Davis, confirms her place as one of America’s greatest film makers.

Unsurprisingly, the documentary has been widely praised, with one critic describing it as “striking at the heart of America’s tangled racial history”. No wonder it has been nominated for an Oscar. Let’s hope that it is a catalyst for real change, which is both desperately needed and long overdue.

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