An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation's history of racial inequality.


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Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 17 wins & 30 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Melina Abdullah ...
Herself - Interviewee
Michelle Alexander ...
Herself - Interviewee
Himself - Interviewee
Dolores Canales ...
Herself - Interviewee
Gina Clayton ...
Herself - Interviewee
Jelani Cobb ...
Himself - Interviewee
Malkia Cyril ...
Herself - Interviewee
Herself - Interviewee
Craig DeRoche ...
Himself - Interviewee
David Dinkins ...
Himself - Interviewee
Baz Dreisinger ...
Herself - Interviewee
Kevin Gannon ...
Himself - Interviewee
Himself - Interviewee (as Henry Louis Gates Jr.)
Marie Gottschalk ...
Herself - Interviewee
Himself - Interviewee


An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation's history of racial inequality.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Documentary | Crime


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Parents Guide:





Release Date:

7 October 2016 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The 13th  »

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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User Reviews

Compelling Documentary
17 January 2017 | by (Palm Springs - United States) – See all my reviews

I was moved by the film. The narrative structure was effective: archival photographs and video footage; interspersed with documented interviews from a balanced (somewhat) and diverse range of authorities on the topic; and peppered with effective graphics mirroring the topic and highlighting an effectively chosen song/musical score. The moment that stays with me most effectively? Just the realization that there is a term for this: "Prison Industrial Complex" = corporations operating in prisons and profiting from punishment. Wow!

Score Grid (out of 4):

Script/Story: 4

Cinematography/Visual Effect: 3

Editing: 4

Sound/Musical Score: 4

Production Design: 4

Acting/Performance: N/A

This documentary had a point of view, and it presented it very persuasively. The strong narrative push, and its emotional and intellectual appeal, is the film's strongest point. Its weakest point was its imbalance. While it presented a politically balanced picture of the situation (political being defined as in our two- party system where both Republicans and Democrats were presented as contributing to the problem), I feel it needed more balance on the racial component.

It is an excellent piece of film making and an extremely effective product in the documentary category. I particularly like the narrative structure, where interviews are cut between archival footage and textual and auditory storytelling. I was extremely moved by this compelling work.

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