My daughter has watched the documentary 13th (2016) about a half dozen times. She compelled me to watch it recently as well, and now I commend it to you.
13th refers to the 13th Amendment to the United States 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, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
The problem is that section that is italicized section effectively meant that people, specifically black people, would be arrested on minor charges such as vagrancy or loitering, and ended up being leased out to industry. It was Slavery by Another Name.
This was followed by Jim Crow segregation and lynching, enhanced in no small part by D. W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation (1915). The modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s arose from the death of Emmett Till. But it was stifled by the mass incarceration efforts of Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Clinton, which affected blacks disproportionately.
Even Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, noted in the film that the much greater sentencing for crack, more often used by blacks, than for powder cocaine preferred by white people.
The country went from having about 300,000 inmates in 1970 to over 2 million today, about 40% black because of various sentencing guidelines. The US has 25% of the incarcerated in the world, though it has but 5% of the world’s population.
13th was directed and co-written by Ava DuVernay, who had directed Selma (2014). Participants include Michelle Alexander, Cory Booker, Angela Davis, Henry Louis Gates, Van Jones, Grover Norquist, Charles Rangel, Bryan Stevenson, and several others. Plus archival footage of Lee Atwater, and every President after JFK.