Jay Z's latest release, a short film/music video hybrid for his song "Family Feud," is packed with historically significant imagery, as well as commentary debating the Second and Thirteenth Amendments that is as applicable today as it is to the future realities in which the video is set.
The star-studded cast of Founding Mothers in the film, directed by 13th writer and director Ava DuVernay, gather around a table to debate the two amendments to the Constitution that have been at the forefront of our news cycles for decades but have become especially divisive as of late: gun control and equality.
The Second Amendment, which makes it the right of the American people to keep and bear arms, was instituted in 1789 after the 13 colonies became the United States. It reads, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." The final four words are the crux of the argument for those against policy promoting greater sanctions on gun ownership.
The Thirteenth Amendment, which is eloquently explored in DuVernay's Netflix documentary, was created at the same time as the Second. It reads, "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Obviously, this amendment was not adhered to by the nation until much later. And, as DuVernay posits in her documentary, much of our policies and history surrounding prisons and incarceration are shaped by a systemically racist ideology.
Knowing this, let's rejoin the Founding Mothers in their debate. We are introduced to them as one of the two future presidents, played by Omari Hardwick, is asked to offer an explanation on behalf of his family. "The worst of us doesn't define us," Hardwick explains. "We have worked and fought side by side for generations. We are all related," Irene Bedard, the other half of the co-presidency, says in the video. Each president presents a key theme.
This scene is a stunning use of metaphor by DuVernay and Jay Z, who wrote the short film together. Even though this scene is set in the near-ish future of 2050, an all-too-familiar phrase is uttered. A voiceover tells us that the Founding Mothers were charged with revising the Constitution "at a time, mind you, when some people thought that 'making America great' meant making us afraid of each other."
The arguments for and against the right to bear arms are brought to the near-future table. Whether owning a gun should even be legal and the ramifications that come with putting something on the other side of the law, people agreeing under the pretext of "a perfect world," and how whatever policy is put in place should be equally applied to every person.
We see an allegory play out over multiple generations. Throughout, it drives home the idea that we are all connected and one family, as Bedard states early on. "Nobody wins when the family feuds," Jay Z repeats. If this video is envisioning a more hopeful future for the United States, it seems that DuVernay and Jay Z are placing the spotlight directly on these two issues as the most divisive in our public discourse. Nobody wins when we're fighting.
During the debate, Susan Kelechi Watson, the president's ancestor, punctuates the discussion with Jay Z's refrain saying, "Nobody wins when the family feuds." The precedence of history, which is underscored so well, highlights how much further we need to go as a nation before our early amendments are truly applied equally.
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