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I can’t breathe.
These are the words that have shook the world. The crude murder of George Floyd by a member of the Minneapolis Police Department has started a chain of reaction that now sees Minnesota’s chief town in riot. And yes, I said murder, for the action of former police officer Derek Chauvin cannot just be dismissed as an excess of force during the arrest. Yet, as an act of manslaughter guided by racial hate. And as such, it begets anger from those who cannot just stand by for such events.
The Minneapolis riots have further split the public opinion. While many argue that violent protest is not effective, and that the collateral damage to this protest can only create more harm; many others believe that “A riot is the language of the Unheard” (Ed. in the own words of Dr. Martin Luther King), and what is happening now in Minneapolis is a whole community screaming back to react to a hegemonic condition that has oppressed them for centuries. Indeed, the driving force of this protest is not only the demand for justice for a hate crime, it is a community reacting to the systematic oppression and prejudice that they can no longer endure.
George Floyd sadly was not the first person of color to be assassinated by law enforcement. However, in an already precarious situation due to the lack of guidance by the Trump administration in front of the Covid-19 pandemic: when within weeks you see first white men parading the Capital carrying automatic rifles to pretest the lockdown be left unbothered, while a black man is suffocated on the sidewalk, people could not take it anymore. This was not just a case of police brutality, this was hard evidence that the United States does not treat his people equally, and all of this because of the tone of their skin.
As a European myself, it is not easy for me to fully comprehend how deeply rooted in history this issue is. Indeed, this goes beyond “simple” racism. The issue of civil right for people of color in the US is the tale of a country that is at war with itself. As such, one of the most important things people can do, alongside supporting the public up-roar of this event, is to actually try and understand this issue at its core. While doing so, I stumbled upon the incredible documentary by Ava DuVernay, “13th”.
This was quite frankly one of the most potent and masterfully crafted documentary I have seen in a long time. Personally, I am not a big fan of the whole “documentary format”. I believe that the talking heads way of storytelling deprives many productions, as it goes against one of the foundations of movie making: show don’t tell. However, when the argument is so dense, and the guests speaking to you impactful, suddenly the talking heads transform into a sort of heart to heart that wraps the viewer and glues him to the screen.
Concise yet powerful, as it barely surpasses the 90 minutes length, 13th deals with the lack of proper jurisdiction and integration of people of color in modern America. This documentary is actually the first non-fiction film to open the New York film festival in 2016 to an adoring crowd. The starting premise concerns the 13th Amendment, which was the first of the amendment ratified in the aftermath of the Civil War in 1865. Whereas this act legally abolished slavery, it came with a loophole that has been exploited for generations. Which was, if you were a criminal that was being punished in a US prison, you could still be held in servitude and bondage.
This ties with the issue of police brutality and biases in arrest towards people of color, which is was even enhanced by the fact that mass incarceration became heavily monetized when the US government lent their prison’s equipment to private investors (such as ALEC). This made the carceral system a business just like any other, a business which runs on incarcerating people. As such, it creates a paradoxical situation where the latest projections show that there are more black people incarcerated now than there were enslaved in the 1850.
This issue is dealt in the blunt yet meaningful way. Ava DuVernay, alongside her incredible ensemble, guides the audience through this issue, and piece by piece she reconstructs how this hegemonic system has come into place.
Starting from the 13th amendment and going through the presidencies of Nixon, Reagan and Clinton and the empowerment of the fight on crime, which was really a fight to oppress poor black people, Ava DuVernay makes her points methodically and without rushing through.
As I would like our readers to watch this documentary to learn the things that I have learnt, I won’t go in any further details to avoid spoiling it. However, it is important want to leave you with one thought before I wrap up today.
The whole purpose of The New Global Order is to share information, to connect the young generations with the bigger issues we are facing in this modern world. As such, the point of the rubric “Cinema and Society”, is that we at TNGO believe that cinema, just like any other form of art, can functions as a looking class, a prism through which we can perceive the different aspects of reality that we would otherwise not miss.
Thus, in this particular historical moment, when we are facing a crisis that stems from ignorance, the art of movie-making can help us better understand what the issue at stake really is. Other than 13th which I have just discussed, I can name dozens of incredible movies from Selma, Color Purple, Do the Right thing, Greenbook and Pride that deal with these issues.
These movies can help sensitize broader audiences to the issue at stake, so that we learn and internalize this struggle, and finally fight as one to overcome it.
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The New Global Order. Any content provided by our authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company or individual.