Ava DuVernay picked up an award for her Netflix documentary 13th at Saturday’s Peabody Awards, where she delivered a powerful speech about her journey to becoming a filmmaker and the meaning of the word “criminal.”
The Oscar-nominated film premiered on the streaming service in 2016 and examines the relationship between the U.S. Constitution’s 13th amendment, which banned slavery except for in cases where it’s used as punishment for a crime, and mass incarceration.
“Yes, some people have done things that put them in a circumstance where they need to be separated,” DuVernay said in her speech. “So many people who are behind bars now are behind bars for reasons that are unequal, are disparate to those who are not behind bars, who are behind bars for too long for crimes that they don’t deserve to be there. And 13th outlines this in a way that I hope that people can understand what you really are saying when you say the word ‘criminal.'”
13th has received widespread praise since its debut from critics, awards shows, and Hollywood elite, among others. “I came away from 13th knowing more than I ever knew I could about mass incarceration,” Oprah Winfrey said during a January discussion with DuVernay celebrating the film. “It not only informed me but it opened up something in me that said, ‘Now what can I do.’ Because now that you’ve seen it, you can’t pretend that you didn’t.”
The documentary is currently streaming on Netflix. Read DuVernay’s speech in full below.
With reporting by Chancellor Agard