DuVernay tells ABC News that growing up where she did led to her interest in the effects of incarceration on black America.
"I grew up in Compton, around a heavy police presence. Indefinitely, always hyper-aware of the effects of incarceration on my community: folks who were around one day who weren’t around the next day; my friends visiting their brothers on the weekend who were locked up; knowing folks who were on probation and parole; and being surveilled and supervised in that way," she says.
She says she "always knew that I was gonna make a film about it."
DuVernay says her narrative movie, "Middle of Nowhere," touches on issues of incarceration.
"But didn’t have designs about making the doc, per se, about the whole kit and caboodle, until I was approached by Netflix, and they asked me, did I want to make a documentary about anything?" she says.
DuVernay found inspiration for 13th in a number of other works, such as Michelle Alexander's book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness."
But the director wants viewers to know that while the documentary presents hard-hitting footage and facts, it's not an academic exploration.
"This is not a hardcore investigation. It is a tour through 150 years of black racism, oppression, and kind of a systemic, insidious process of dehumanization," DuVernay says. "So it’s really about bringing in all of those sources into one place and giving it to folks in about 100 minutes."
13th premieres on Netflix this Friday.