15 Sociopolitical Documentaries on Netflix Everyone Needs to Watch

By: Salma G

I’m not sure if I’m the only one who feels this way, but Netflix sometimes can be a waste of time. I mean, I’m a killer for stories about European and American teenagers that I probably don’t even relate to, or supernatural beings whose lives I dream of living, or heists that don’t even make sense most of the time, but at times I might need to take my daily dose of dopamine off of something a bit more eye opening, a bit more different than the usual, a bit more woke. If you don’t mind starting documentaries and actually finishing them, this is a list of 15 interesting ones you should definitely check out.

1. Murder to Mercy: Cyntoia Brown

See this girl? Familiar face, right? You’ve probably seen her all over your feed in 2018.

Cyntoia Brown, the 16 year old girl who was accused of first degree murder for shooting a 43 year old male as an impulsive reflex out of fear, thinking that he will kill or rape her. 15 years of prison and three different trials later, each with a different lawyer, she gets released after proving and convincing the judges and governor that she’s changed and will become a productive citizen when freed. 

It shows how strict laws are for juveniles in the US, how sex trafficking’s definition has changed through a decade, and how it impacted, and completely transformed one’s life.

2. Women at War 1914-1918

I study the french baccalaureate system aka Bac, and in the chapter of WW1, when mentioning women and their work during that crucial time, they only had 4 pages that were mainly full of pictures, no names were mentioned, and everything was briefly stated. When discussing WW2, women weren’t part of the lesson to begin with. Hence why many of the people around me know almost nothing about what they’ve done during both wars, their pain and effort undermined and forgotten. 

And that’s why this documentary is extremely important first, and interesting second, it will tell you facts I’m certain you have never heard before. It’ll give you stories, experiences and memories narrated through letters, photos, and videos of women who’ve given their lives in war.

It’s in french, but it has subtitles and you can change the audio.

After checking this one out, watch Women at War 1939-1945.

3. Crip Camp

This documentary is about how Camp Jened, a summer camp organized and held for disabled individuals, was what led to the civil rights movement in the US back in the 70s. It also shows you how people from the disabled community have spoken about their struggles, demanded their rights and fought for laws to be written so that they can exist and be treated like human beings in the workplace, educational institutions, hospitals, and public spaces like restaurants and even the streets.

It’s one of the most inspiring documentaries I’ve ever watched; the power, resistance and drive these people had back then, despite how hard the fight was, fueled with anger, frustration and belief in their purpose, is empowering if not outright awe-inspiring.

4. Sex, Explained

This documentary was the sex ed class our schools and families failed to provide us with. This ain’t the birds and bees conversations; this is birth control, fertility, fantasies, attraction, birth, and more – not just scientifically explained, but also presented in their differences across cultures and beliefs. It’s extremely important to watch and learn to understand how our bodies function and how they’ve been policed.

5. The Accountant of Auschwitz

A nazi german officer has been tried in the horrifying acts in the Auschwitz concentration camp, 70 years later. This – of course – provided a lot of questions: should we execute a 94 year-old man? Should he be punished when he didn’t directly murder anyone? Were the Germans – as a people – aware of the massacres that were taking place by their own nazi officers? Was it genocide? The questions are endless, but so are the potential answers. If you’re a fan of mind fucks and history lessons, this is for you.

6. Dirty Money

This series is about a couple of corporations exposed for fraud and corruption. Each episode tackles and discusses one example, interviewing previous employees, journalists who investigated those spaces, or victims who have suffered under the hands of those who commit those atrocities. There is no harsher reality check of the greed and corruption that exist everywhere, but especially in capitalist world.

7. Evil Genius

The story of one of the most diabolical and dangerous bank heists in America, where a potential hostage -a pizza delivery guy- entered a bank with a homemade bomb all around his neck or an explosive collar, and was murdered later in front of the police in the street, while a robbery was taking place.

8. Period. End of sentence.

Menstruation is a taboo. The fact that women bleed out of their vaginas is seen as something to be ashamed of, instead of a testament to a woman’s ability to create and give life. Young girls are taught to be ashamed of their bodies and their periods. As if bleeding every month is something they can control, they’re supposed to just let it happen without knowing what it is, shut up about it, and not entertain any thoughts on this event, let alone talk to anyone – especially not men – about it.

This particular documentary tackles menstruation in India. It discusses a new business created by school students in LA, where they’ve built pad making machines and introduce them to Indian women in poor villages, as a more sanitary and practical option than the pieces of dry cloth they use. Which is interesting to see, because while yes, Amen. Also, why the white savior? Why look at ‘the poor savages’? Why other? It’s a curious documentary, you’ll enjoy it regardless.

9. 13th

Want to understand why it’s called systemic racism? How discrimination against black communities is engraved in the US system? Why we hear about black drug dealers, gang leaders, robbers and not white ones, although they exist? Why many black families grow up fatherless? Why slavery wasn’t technically abolished right away (or abolished at all, just took a different form)? Why the land of the free is the one most populated with prisoners?

Watch this.

10. What happened, Miss Simone?

Nina Simone, a jazz and blues singer, lived a life full of physical, sexual and mental abuse. Where she was pressured into a career that went neither as planned nor hoped for, and suffered from a mental illness that wasn’t diagnosed till a couple of years before her death.

This is her story. One that showcases what civil rights activists and artists have gone through, how their careers went downhill because of what they were fighting for and believed in, and it gives you a brief explanation, or rather a testimony, of what a life as a person with bipolar disorder looks like.

11. The Black Godfather

Clarence Avant, ‘the godfather of black music’, is a very known figure in the music industry, but not to the public. This is his life and story narrated by the people he knew and worked with.

12. One of Us

Hasidic jews are a conservative ethnic group who live in America. Traumatized by World War II, they stick to their rules and traditions in order to keep their communities strong and nearly impenetrable. But what if, one of them wants out?

Watching this made me think of the difference between culture and religion, how the line between both – if there even is one – is so blurred. It made me rethink trauma and the rage it leaves behind, the one built from refusing to be helpless again, as a people. It’s a fascinating and heartbreaking look into one of the most conservative Jewish groups today.

13. Audrie and Daisy

Two cases of sexual assault – the retelling of the same story, the same shame, the same systemic misogyny, but with countless names, in countless spaces, and equally terrifying but different endings.

This documentary proves to you that any man can be a rapist or a pedophile or a harasser or a rape apologist or an abusers. No matter how ‘nice’ or ‘close’ or handsome or rich.

It’s painful to watch, traumatizing actually, because you see the victims being slut shamed, blamed, and hurt by their families and communities, twisting an already marrow-deep knife hard. Want to see into the patriarchy through a tiny little window? Audrie and Daisy will do that for you.

14. The Great Hack

Cambridge Analytica, is the British communication company that used and stole private information on US citizens so it can figure out how to get them to vote for Donald Trump specifically and republicans generally in the 2016 presidential elections. This is the telling of a man digging deep into the story of how this one company threw everyone for a loop through their digital unethical propaganda, literally taking matters into his own hands – entirely legally.

15. Holy Hell

Will Allen, forced to leave his house at the age of 22 because his mother didn’t approve of him, joined a meditation group suggested by his sister, called Buddhafield. Led by a man who goes by many names but is known as Michel, Allen, now an ex member, talks about his experience as part of the group, and exposes the groups leader as an abusive man to his ‘followers’. If cults get you into a curious itch, this is fantastic.

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