13th ★★


Not a bad film, exactly—just one that I didn't need to watch, telling me a whole lot of things that I already know. First half hour in particular laboriously outlines 20th-century racial politics, assuming ignorance of such basics as The Birth of a Nation, Jim Crow laws, and the Southern strategy; I felt like I'd accidentally wandered into an 8th-grade history class, started wondering if maybe there were some papers I could correct. Eventually, DuVernay starts making a cogent, vital argument, viz. the tactical imprisonment of African-Americans as an extension of slavery, but in a way that still seems to be pitched at extremely low-information viewers. I was more or less familiar with the substance of O.J.: Made in America, too, but Edelman's almost microscopic approach—which genuinely does require seven hours of slow, methodical focus—reveals minute sociological connections that bolster his thesis in unexpected ways. There's nothing comparable in this hastily written term paper of a documentary, and while I understand that the 10-hour, expansive version I'd prefer would reach far fewer people (and that the film as it exists will be a positive force in the world), I can't pretend that I wasn't mostly bored out of my skull.