TIME dubbed the summer of 2018 as a “mini documentary boom,” but it seems the documentary peak has transformed into an impressive plateau. Earlier this year, NPR claimed that documentaries were in an “undeniable golden age.” And now, Netflix has upped its game by releasing a crop of comprehensive films to help watchers understand recent headlines and identify with those affected.
We’ve rounded up the most relevant of these films available for streaming on Netflix. Whether they were released in the recent present or were far ahead of their time, these 10 vitally important documentaries will help you get a grasp on the current state of the world.
American Factory simultaneously tackles two topics that have been discussed in stump speeches from politicians, news podcasts, and daily briefings over the past three years: the American middle class and relations between the U.S. and China. The film centers around the closing of a General Motors plant that left many jobless, an event that has become all too familiar.
When a Chinese business owner reopens the plant and hires back many of the former employees, both Chinese and American workers must reckon with their opposing manufacturing styles and practices. American Factory presents globalization in a localized context, putting real faces to those affected by large-scale issues. The documentary was released on Netflix via Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground, and was directed by Julia Reichert and Steven Bogner.
Kirby Dick’s Bleeding Edge explains that when commercial and consumer culture infiltrate the medical field, unproven and untested devices harm the lives of countless people. Much like the opioid epidemic, profitable sectors of the healthcare industry push products to be prescribed or implanted in patients in order to make money, rather than to actually help them heal.
If you’ve ever seen advertisements seeking out those who’ve experienced the harmful affects of medical devices for a class action lawsuit, you’ve gotten a piece of the story. Bleeding Edge will fill in the gaps on the topic that is malpractice in the American healthcare system.
Reversing Roe, which references Former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement but was released weeks before the fated Kavanaugh Hearings, examines how abortion has become a highly politicized and emotionally charged issue in the years since Roe v. Wade in 1973.
The film’s creators, Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, interviewed both abortion rights and anti-abortion activists to provide a two-sided approach to a hot-button issue that is inevitably intermingled with appeals to our nation’s sense of religion, morality, agency, and autonomy.
4. 13th (2016)
Before Brian Banks, Free Meek, and even True Justice, Ava DuVernay’s groundbreaking 13th educated audiences nationwide about mass incarceration and the widespread wrongful imprisonment of black Americans. The documentary, titled to reference the 13th Amendment — the amendment that abolished slavery — not only elevates the voices of those who have fallen victim to the broken justice system, it exposes those who made such a system possible, such as proponents of Jim Crow-era statutes and the multiple former presidents and political leaders that contributed to the Republican Party’s war on drugs (which enlisted Bill Clinton as well). 13th extensively enlightens viewers on how a majority of black Americans unfairly serve time in the prison industrial complex. It won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary.
For must of us, the Great Barrier Reef is the setting for Marlin and Dory’s epic adventure to find Nemo; it exists in our minds as a multi-colored, albeit animated, wildlife masterpiece. But in reality, the Great Barrier Reef, which consists of a massive amount of coral, is deteriorating due to a process called coral bleaching. As Chasing Coral explains, this bleaching occurs as a result of climate change.
Luckily, we are at a pivotal moment. We can still work to reverse the effects of the global heat wave that has been rampantly affecting coral. The film’s creator, Jeff Orlowski, and those committed to combatting climate change at Exposure Lab have put together an action guide that details how viewers can make a difference by transitioning to 100% clean energy and working to put an end to harsh practices like dredging and overfishing. Chasing Coral is an environmental call to action, and its sweeping ocean panoramas can’t be beat.
Little did some of us know that FX’s POSE is a huge nod to Paris Is Burning. Although the film was groundbreaking at the time of its release, Paris Is Burning earned a spot on this list due to its continued legacy and relevancy. Not only is POSE a primetime hit, ball culture is still alive and well. Paris Is Burning, created and directed by Jennie Livingston, showcases balls and the resilient underground drag ecosystem through the journeys of the pioneers themselves. The history of this facet of the LGBTQ community is important, and Paris Is Burning tells its story.
From Bryan Fogel (Race to Witch Mountain), Icarus takes a closer look at Russia through the lens of illegal doping in the Olympics. Doping, as stated in the film, affects the credibility of sports — a form of entertainment and binding part of the cultural identity of many nations.
Fogel originally intended to center Icarus around his experience injecting himself with performance-enhancing drugs, also captured on film. However, when he interviewed Dr. Grigory Rodchenov, head of the Russian anti-doping program, Fogel uncovered how Russia built a legacy of Olympic excellence through longstanding systematic cheating called for by Putin himself. Described as a “geopolitical thriller,” Icarus uncovered truths about a taboo subject and won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
At this point, Blackfish can really be considered an oldie but a goodie in the documentary sphere. The documentary, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, is further fodder for many who oppose the practices and profitability of SeaWorld. It posits that orcas only become killer whales after psychosis garnered from their time in captivity.
Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, an orca who lived in captivity at the Canadian aquarium Sealand of the Pacific and killed a whale trainer. After the accident, which involved two other whales, all of the orcas at Sealand of the Pacific were purchased by SeaWorld. The film is a tour de force exposé revealing the pseudo-natural attractions that drive up ticket sales and exploit both animal and human lives.
Amanda Knox made headlines back in 2007 for allegedly murdering her roommate Meredith Kercher in the apartment they shared in Perugia, Italy. Knox and Raffele Sollecito, her then-boyfriend who was accused alongside her for the murder, were held imprisoned in Italy until 2011.
Like Casey Anthony, Amanda Knox became synonymous with the image of an unsuspecting white woman who was capable of the unthinkable … or was she? After years of her personal life, choices, and diary being on display, Knox was definitively acquitted in 2015. In her self-titled documentary film directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn, Knox dispels the rumors and tales that defined Meredith Kercher’s murder case — and Knox’s life — for a decade.
Roger Stone is much more than another one of the notorious key players in the multiple ongoing lawsuits against Donald Trump: He played a big role in defining what opposition research in political campaigns looks like today. Stone worked on the campaigns of former presidents Reagan and Nixon, as well as those of Jack Kemp, Bob Dole, and Donald Trump. Throughout his tenure in Washington, he’s amassed a reputation as a political fixer who has an affinity for playing dirty — think ultra combative political lobbying and a recent association with Wikileaks — and dredging up tidbits on opponents that slander and smear their entire campaigns.
Created by Daniel DiMauro, Get Me Roger Stone understands that Stone’s ruthless and unique logic is worth comprehending, as it has affected much of recent political history. If you didn’t quite know who Roger Stone was before, you’ll know him now. And, oh yeah, that Nixon tattoo is real.