Powerhouse director Ava DuVernay’s civil rights documentary 13th won in a major way at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards. In total, 13th was nominated for eight awards and took home four: Writing for Nonfiction Programs, Outstanding Motion Design, Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special, and Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for “The Letter to the Free.”
13th traces the history from the US constitution’s 13th amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, to 2016, where one-in-three black American males can expect to be imprisoned during his lifetime. It explores racial imbalances in the criminal justice system, and features appearances from author Michelle Alexander, activist Angela Davis, and Senator Cory Booker, among others. At it’s core, this powerful film charts the path that shows the audience how history has been repeating itself from the Jim Crow era to the present.
After winning Outstanding Documentary or Non-Fiction Special, DuVernay used the platform to give an empowering speech about all those who have been affected by institutional racism and mass incarceration.
“It was a beautiful process, but it was an emotional process to steep yourself in. I want to thank, and think about tonight the hundreds of thousands of families who are waiting for their loved ones to come home,” she said. “Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, who don’t know where their loved one is. Unsung heroes of a struggle that has not a lot to do with them, but has a lot to do with how they live each day.”
DuVernay continued her speech backstage “It’s nights like these when you are able to amplify a story with this kind of attention that makes me happy. This is an evergreen story. It’s ongoing. It wasn’t just something that we dropped last year. It shouldn’t be forgotten. There are still 2.3 million people behind bars. We over-incarcerate in this country — the most incarcerated nation in the world. Now, more than ever, it’s important for people who believe in a different way of policing and criminal justice to make our voices heard.”
According to Deadline, when asked what kind of justice system she’d like to see, Ava remarked, “a system that doesn’t discriminate against people who live in marginalized communities” as opposed to those affluent neighborhoods. “There’s a way to do it where it’s more balanced and fair.”
13th premiered theatrically in 2016, and currently streams on Netflix. The film became the first documentary in history to open the New York Film Festival, and won a Critics Choice Documentary Award for Best Director, Best Documentary Feature (in the TV/Streaming category), and Best Political Documentary. 13th also won a BAFTA Award for Best Documentary, and was among the Peabody Award Documentary winners.