Earlier this morning, the announcement that Denzel Washington‘s adaptation of August Wilson‘s classic play Fences will open toward the end of December made me consider the fact that Washington is heading for the Academy Awards next March, either for acting or for filmmaking overall. There are other categories outside of Best Actor/Actress and Best Film/Directing worth considering, of course, such as Best Foreign Film – which could go to anything from Neruda and Toni Erdmann to The Salesman and Julieta – or Best Documentary, which could go to small masterworks like Weiner or Nuts!. And now that category just got a major new contender in Ava DuVernay‘s unexpected new documentary The 13th, which tackles racial inequality and mass incarceration in America.
The documentary is set to debut on Netflix and in a limited theatrical run on October 7th, but the film will be screening before then, thanks to a historic move by the New York Film Festival. The 13th is set to open the 54th annual iteration of the festival, and will be the first documentary in the history of the Lincoln Center-based celebration of all things cinephilic to serve as opener. In past year’s, major auteur works ranging from Gone Girl and Captain Phillips to Mystic River and The Darjeeling Limited have taken the opening spot at the New York Film Festival. Last year, the coveted spot was gifted to Robert Zemeckis‘ fascinating yet facile The Walk, a 3D-enhanced retelling of the high-wire act between the twin towers that was explored far more interestingly in Man on Wire.
Considering the fact that DuVernay cemented her reputation as a visual artist of the highest order with 2014’s staggeringly brilliant Selma, this makes quite a lot of sense, even more so when one remembers that DuVernay has already touched on the devastating emotional toll of incarceration in her excellent Middle of Nowhere. Regardless of where DuVernay’s film ends up when nominations are being handed out, The 13th has quickly announced itself as one of the major American releases of 2016, which is saying quite a lot.
Here’s how the press release synopsizes The 13th:
Chronicling the history of racial inequality in the United States, The 13th examines how our country has produced the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with the majority of those imprisoned being African-American. The title of DuVernay’s extraordinary and galvanizing film refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution—“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 . . . ” The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass incarceration and the prison industry in the U.S. is laid out by DuVernay with bracing lucidity.