“13th,” which is currently available worldwide on Netflix’s streaming service, investigates the high rate of incarceration in the U.S., particularly among African Americans. The title is a reference to the 13th Amendment of the Constitution abolishing slavery.
For Netflix, the recognition for “13th” — along with 2017 Oscar nominations for two documentary shorts, “Extremis” and “The White Helmets” — reflects the company’s continued strength in the documentary field. So far, however, it has been unable to crack into other major Academy Awards categories, while Amazon Studios this year became the first streaming service with a best-picture nom for “Manchester by the Sea.”
Netflix’s “13th” will face off in the 2017 Oscars against the four other nominated documentaries: “Fire at Sea” from Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo; “I Am Not Your Negro,” from Raoul Peck, Rémi Grellety and Hébert Peck; “Life, Animnated,” from Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman; and ESPN Films’ “O.J.: Made in America” from Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow.
In “13th” DuVernay, whose directing credits include “Selma” and “Middle of Nowhere,” traces a historical throughline from 1915’s “The Birth of a Nation” up through the Black Lives Matter movement, incorporating archival footage and interviews with figures including Angela Davis, Cory Booker, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Newt Gingrich and Van Jones.
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In a statement, DuVernay said, “My thanks to the Academy for amplifying the injustices of mass criminalization and mass incarceration that we chronicle in ’13th.’ Now more than ever, it is important to educate ourselves, explore our shared history and elevate our awareness about matters of human dignity. It’s an honor be included in a category with such fine documentarians and to be nominated in a year that truly embraces and celebrates inclusion within our creative community.”
The film was directed by DuVernary and produced by DuVernay, Howard Barish and Spencer Averick. Executive producers are Lisa Nishimura, Ben Cotner, Adam Del Deo, Angus Wall, and Jason Sterman.
“13th” premiered at the 2016 New York Film Festival (originally titled “The 13th”) on Sept. 30, before release on Netflix worldwide on Oct. 7.
DuVernary earned a Golden Globe best director nomination for “Selma” (and the film was a 2015 Oscars best picture nominee) and she won the 2012 Sundance Film Festival’s best director prize for “Middle of Nowhere.” In fall of 2016, her first TV series as executive producer, writer and director, “Queen Sugar,” debuted on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN.
For Netflix, the streamer’s only Oscar win so far came in 2014, for short documentary “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life,” about pianist and Holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommer.
Last year, two Netflix docus, “What Happened Miss Simone?” and “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom,” picked up Academy Awards nominations. In 2015, “Virunga,” about endangered gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was nominated for best documentary, and a year before that “The Square,” about the 2011 popular uprising in Egypt, was in Oscars contention.
Netflix has focused on procuring non-fiction programming under Lisa Nishimura, VP of original documentary and comedy — who also has led a wave of deals for comedy specials and series from Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, and Amy Schumer.
Pictured above: Angela Davis in Ava DuVernay’s “13th”