Netflix and woke

Netflix just released this weekend the Ava DuVernay documentary, 13th. The film is an examination of the 13th amendment of the constitution that is credited as outlawing slavery in America. DuVernay’s film points out the literal meaning of the amendment, and the role it plays in modern Black America. 13th is an examination into part of the Black American experience as a result of the amendment, and could make one see DuVernay’s documentary as a sort of thematic bookend to Netflix’s Luke Cage, released last weekend. I take the paring a little further and say that by adding Netflix’s Amanda Knox documentary (or at least the first half of it) to the viewing list one could make an unofficial Netflix Black Awareness festival.

A lot has already been written about the show
Luke Cage and its levels of Black American consciousness. Levels that caused some to cry out claims of anti-white racism, an accusation usually thrown at longstanding institutions like HBCUs and the NAACP, or the entire month of February. DuVernay’s documentary provides an explanation into how a comic book based show about a bulletproof black man in a hoodie could resonate so deeply in American culture, it shows both some of the roots and the results of America’s perceptions of black people stemming from another work of fiction, D.W. Griffith’s racist propaganda film “The Birth of a Nation”. Mass incarceration itself is even referenced when a character tells Luke Cage that his time in prison is a shared life experience among most of the people in Harlem where where the show takes place.

The Amanda Knox documentary, on the other hand, presented a more indirect (and brief) example of the double standard that comprises part of the Black American experience when Amanda originally blames the murdered she was charged with on Patrick Lumumba, a black man who owned the bar she worked for at the time. This was not the first instance of someone using “the black guy did it,” as a defense. While the Amanda Knox documentary never makes any attempt to address the role race played in her story, 13th explains why, “the black guy did it” excuse was able to become a thing in the first place by exploring the ways in which the word “criminal” replaced the word “nigger” and the ramifications that it had.

DuVernay’s documentary is a great film and can be fully appreciated without watching the Amanda Knox documentary or Luke Cage, but if you find yourself trapped inside for a few days, 13th provides great real life context to the fictional experiences of “ex-con turned hero” Luke Cage and the downplayed situation of Patrick Lumumba in Amanda Knox’s story. 13th can also be a harsh splash of reality countering the Harlem fantasy of Luke Cage and providing an insight into what could have happened to Patrick Lumumba regardless of if Amanda Knox was telling the truth.