Ava DuVernay’s upcoming Netflix documentary The 13th will kick off this year’s New York Film Festival. The award-winning director’s documentary will be the first time a nonfiction film will open the event in its 54-year run.


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The 13th draws its name from the 13th amendment of the United States Constitution, which states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The documentary will take a look at the high rate of incarceration of Blacks in America.

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In an interview with The New York Times DuVernay discussed her motivation for creating The 13th.

“A certain part of our population has been demonized for the benefit of private industry and politicians, and a lot of forces that have nothing to do with, quote, ‘keeping people safe’,” said Duvernay. “Once you know why we’re here and how we got here, we’re on more solid footing to walk ourselves out of this deep valley that we found ourselves in. That’s the hope.”

The doc will feature footage of the civil rights movement, the Ku Klux Klan and Black Lives Matter activists, as well as interviews with figures like Republican and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, political commentator and activist Van Jones, and Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Kent Jones, the NYFF’s Director, discussed why DuVernay’s film was chosen to open the festival.

“There’s no other answer besides the fact that it’s a great film,” he said. “While I was watching The 13th, the distinction between documentary and fiction gave way and I felt like I was experiencing something so rare: direct contact between the artist and right now, this very moment. In fact, Ava is actually trying to redefine the terms on which we discuss where we’re at, how we got here, and where we’re going. The 13th is a great film. It’s also an act of true patriotism.”

DuVernay, who directed Selma and the upcoming OWN series Queen Sugar, hopes the documentary will give viewers a better understanding of how systemic racism functions and how to end it.

“A certain part of our population has been demonized for the benefit of private industry and politicians, and a lot of forces that have nothing to do with, quote, ‘keeping people safe,'” she said. “Once you know why we’re here and how we got here, we’re on more solid footing to walk ourselves out of this deep valley that we found ourselves in. That’s the hope.”

The New York Film Festival will run from September 30th through October 18th. After its premiere, The 13th will be released on Netflix and in theaters on October 7th.