On Wednesday, I attended the Emory Cinematheque screening of 13th, a made-for-Netflix documentary about the history of the criminalization of race and the prison-industrial complex in America. It discussed how the Thirteenth Amendment made slavery illegal except for when it was a punishment for a crime, and how that led to America’s prison boom and for-profit prison industry, which was mostly fueled by racism.
One interesting thing about the documentary was the use of real, archival footage of certain key events from the history, and watching how that has evolved over time. In the past, most of the photographic documentation was just that, photographs, and only at events which were hugely important. Nowadays, with the rise of the smartphone and the internet, every unjustified killing of a Black person is captured, recorded, and disseminated; many of the most impactful, such as those of Tamir Rice and Philando Castile were shown in rapid succession in the documentary. Every Black Lives Matter protest is recorded and spread; it is impossible to have any sort of media presence and still be blind to the racial realities of today.
One of the things about the production side of the documentary, unrelated to the content, that interested me is that this documentary was made specifically for Netflix, and actually streamed right off Netflix during the screening. I think it is interesting how quickly streaming services like Netflix have progressed within the last five or ten years, to the point now that this obviously high-budget, incredibly well made documentary, was made specifically for and released on Netflix, even if it was shown at other festivals or spaces.