Film Review: American Jail (2018).

American Jail

All Rights Reserved to the rightful owners. American Jail Press Still. Provided by distributor Full Color Entertainment.




Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – 4/5.

Author: Feargal Agard | Runtime: 96 min. | Director: Roger Ross Williams | Year: 2018.

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Provocatively amazing! American Jail (2018) is a documentary in which Academy Award-winning film director Roger Ross Williams discusses the forces that run the sprawling prison system of the United States.

American Jail is a documentary film that explores the realms of the criminal justice system of the United States of Amerca. Roger Ross Williams grew up in Easton, Pennsylvania. While growing up he had to deal with racial issues, poverty, and crime. But he was lucky to escape Easton and pursue his studies at New York University where he could be himself. The death of one of his childhood friend compelled him to go back and investigate a problem that has always been there in Easton. A lot of people he knew have ended up in jail, including his childhood friend. But why is that? How come so many poor people and people of color end up in jail in many cases even for small petty crimes or the fact that they could pay particular fees. Many questions are raised when he begins his investigation. But what’s the most exciting feature about this documentary is that everything about this prison system becomes pretty clear when it is being laid out right in front of you.




American Jail was directed by Emmy Award and Academy Award-winning film director Roger Ross Williams. The documentary was a co-production between Submarine films and CNN films. Williams initially set out to make a documentary for the WHY SLAVERY? project, by THE WHY, which promotes human rights. In his search for what to make a documentary about he was compelled to make American Jail because of the death by suicide of his childhood friend who was a victim of the American prison system. In American Jail, Williams deconstructs and unveils everything that is erroneous with the criminal justice system of the United States. Of which poor (white) people, minorities, people of color, but mostly black people are a victim off. The numbers shown in this documentary are staggering. The United States has in percentages and in numbers the highest incarceration rate in the world which comes to an amount of 2.2 million prisoners. Most noteworthy is that fifty percent of the prisoners are African American. Stuck in a system that you will recognize -after watching American Jail and understanding the ‘justifying’ role that the 13th Amendment plays- as part of modern-day slavery. In the end, Williams compares American Jails with the more humane ones in the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

Structure wise and aesthetically the film has gone a very interesting route. The film first explores the film director’s childhood to make the point of the film be noticed. It is supported with beautifully animated imagery that conveys to the spectators what the true magnitude is of what is actually happening. Breaking all the explanations down to images that communicate quickly how grand the issues are and that they essentially are mere process lines designed to control the human beings that they mark as criminals and free laborers for their industries. From there on we enter a broad investigation that becomes a path that goes parallel with the director’s childhood experiences and the life experiences of his childhood friends and he even goes beyond that. The combination of all these different paths, investigations and discoveries, works! It is cohesive in every way and it unravels an entire scheme that wasn’t per se complot theorized, but naturally grew to what it is today. Based on the acts of politicians, institutions and companies who saw the benefits in it for themselves, but in the long run, it represents the detriment of the United States.




American Jail is a true recommendation to anyone who wants to know more or is in need of an eye-opening experience. It is time that the issues of this prison system gets exposed to a large audience. And If it’s up to Roger Ross Williams, it is time to stand up and take action.  as he says that this is a what a new civil rights movement of sorts should be focused on.

The film will be released in the Netherlands as from the 20th of September 2018.

Genre: Drama | Languages: English | Producers: CNN films, Submarine films.

In regard to all pictures and trailer footage. All Rights Reserved to the rightful owners. American Jail Press Still. Provided by distributor Full Color Entertainment.




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