This Thursday morning, I sat down for a screening of the Netflix documentary 13th, which details the issues of mass incarceration endemic to the United States of America. As I looked around our room packed with at least sixty people between the ages of 18 and 25, all of whom were committed to the cause of education equity, I was reminded of the idea of "third cinema." First theorized in a 1969 manifesto, third cinema is neither a large blockbuster (first cinema) nor a quaint arthouse drama (second cinema) but instead a film meant to incite revolution. The theorists wrote of films that "turned their back on or actively opposed the System" as no other films dared (108), but also mentioned that their screenings are "guerrilla cinema" meant to upset audiences and bring about change (132).
13th is a brilliant work of art, directed by Ava DuVernay (Selma) in a strikingly kinematic blend of enticing images. Throughout the film, inequities based on nothing more than the color of a human being's skin and socioeconomic status are displayed over and over ad infinitum until the story is told, that "we are living at this time [of racial injustice,] and we are tolerating it."
Surely, our group of young, woke soldiers couldn't stand by at that. I hoped for a second that we angry youth had a chance to get angry, get upset, go out and forge shining revolutionary paths. But then we didn't.
Because we can't.
For all of the pain and the rage and the hate and the loss and the love built up in our room, we had to teach a room of children for five hours that day, most of arriving underprepared and badly shaken by the grim reality closing in around us. The thing is, third cinema only works if the audience can be driven to revolution. Caught in the middle of a dark week during the hardest month yet, the entire group of young idealistic teachers was simply beaten down by the weight. I was among at least three of my direct team of ten who wept that day, not including the members of our larger group who were simply driven back home to bed by the heaviness.
It was like tying bowling balls to people in free fall.
I am hesitant to say that my organization is part of a revolution, especially considering my team's close ties to Bain Capital. However, we are full of individuals who believe we are here to change the world. I believe instead that I am trying as hard as my soul will take to love and learn with community, but the fact that I am exhausted daily does not change. We all are.
The idea of some beam of light that will by itself energize a group or an individual to action is a conceited fallacy. So, how do take on new fights? We cannot, we can only empathize with the suffering and hurt, integrate them into our base of knowledge and try harder, do better. On the one hand, 13th is a movie that did me wrong, wearing me to a small, whimpering pulp at a critical point in the day.
But on the other, it has helped me take another step to decolonizing my mind. Moving forward is better than standing still.