Ava Duvernay’s documentary, The 13th, will be the opening film at the New York Film Festival’s (NYFF) 54th Festival. It’s the first non-fiction film to open the event in the NYFF’s history; if you haven’t already, let us toast to Duvernay’s #BlackGirlMagic. I want to take it a step further though, I want to uplift Duvernay’s message.

The documentary is appropriately titled to address the ironies between the 13th Amendment that simultaneously “abolished” slavery and also created mass incarceration over time.

In a statement on the film’s selection to open the festival, Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones described the documentary as “a true act of patriotism”. This is refreshing considering dialogue around criminal justice and mass incarceration can be touchy and considered divisive because of it’s close cousin racism.

There’s no doubt the documentary will be widely watched, my hope is that it will also be widely well-received. The film has a strong lineup of interviews and comments from those fighting both inside and outside of the system, tying together the narratives of people of color and the data used to back them up.

Duvernay has produced an important piece of work in a pivotal time for criminal justice reform. “This film was made as an answer to my own questions,” Duvernay shared in a statement, “How and why we have become the most incarcerated nation in the world, how and why we regard some of our citizens as innately criminal, and how and why good people allow this injustice to happen generation after generation.”

Not only will DuVernay be answering her questions that drove her to create The 13th, but I look forward to having my own questions answered while also being inspired to do more. I plan to watch with the lens that I can do something about mass incarceration, no matter how big or small. What excites me most is this important piece of storytelling is coming at a time when it reflects the injustices that are on the minds of the majority, the growing public that is next in line to push the agenda and culture of our society.

The debut of Duvernay’s The 13th is certainly worth celebrating as we push for more people of color in pop culture and media and also to have these mediums to truthfully depict our realities. Celebrating, to me, will look like taking Duvernay’s efforts a step further and finding how I can plug into the work around change. I hope to see the documentary inspire others to do the same.

The 13th will open the Festival and will have a limited run in theaters and a debut on Netflix beginning October 7.

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