Forget Netflix and chill, how about Netflix and change the world?
It’s all too easy to plop in front of our TVs, phones or computer screens and binge hours of Netflix, but the streaming service is not just rich in typical visual entertainment. It's chockfull of documentaries that will make you think, make you happy, angry, or curious, and some that will simply make you want to take action—no Hollywood effects, directors, or celebrities necessary.
When it comes to any category, you can probably spend hours scrolling through Netflix documentaries to find the one for you. There is no shortage of inspiration, cause for debate, or spark for action when it comes to films. Whether it’s health and medicine, the environment, animal rights, gun violence, pop culture, or social movements, is there not always room for improvement? And what are you doing about it? We’ve gone through the list and narrowed down the top 10 Netflix documentaries that may just inspire you to make a change.
While this documentary was first released in 2013 it remains atop almost every Netflix documentary list. Why? It brought to the big (and small) screens the plight of orca, Tilikum and his life of captivity in SeaWorld. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite makes a strong case against the physical and mental suffering animals in captivity endure, and for what? Entertainment and shows viewed and paid for by thousands of tourists and families. The documentary makes you question the treatment of animals when corporations and money are involved. It goes far beyond the pools of SeaWorld to wildlife tourism and the countless other industries that depend on animals to make a profit.
Famous coral reefs like those found in Australia, the Maldives, the Indian Ocean and the Philippines are on many travellers’ bucket lists. The experience and the potential for photos inspire adventure and wanderlust which is sure to get you plenty of love on the ‘gram. The reality though is that these corals are disappearing fast. Self-proclaimed ‘coral nerd’ Jeff Orlowiski works with a team of scientists, divers, and photographers from around the world to reveal what’s going on at the bottom of the world’s oceans, a new environment that’s long been romanticized, but also destroyed by human habits. This film is a must-watch lesson in sustainability.
Many people are sceptical of pharmaceutical companies and sometimes, even their own doctors. Warning – this documentary will not make these cynics feel any better. Directed by Kirby Dick, the film explores the $400 billion (yes, that number is correct) medical device industry and all the professions, corporations and money involved in bringing medical devices and ‘solutions’ to everyday patients with sometimes little to no scientific evidence or clinical trials. If anything, The Bleeding Edge will inspire you to get informed and do your research. It will help spark conversations between patients and their caregivers and help put health and cost into serious focus.
What the health
Has there been a more talked about or controversial documentary in the last two years? Maybe not. But this one directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn certainly had the world talking. Examining the link between diet and disease and exploring the food, health, and pharmaceutical industries in sometimes graphic ways, the film has raised questions about the food we eat, where it comes from and how it impacts our health. Do we really know what we’re putting in our bodies and can we trust the people who provide our sustenance, let alone healthcare advice? With self-care reaching its peak in awareness (and not just a hashtag) the documentary is sure to impact your habits and perhaps those of the people around you.
This docuseries tries to uncover the truth behind the disappearance and murder of Catholic sister and teacher Cathy Cesnik in 1969. Director Ryan White speaks to Baltimore residents, former students and journalists trying to piece together the complicated case. Throughout the series, it’s uncovered Cesnik may have discovered sexual abuse at the all-girls Archbishop Keough High School where she taught. Years after Cesnik’s murder, former female students came forward accusing priests at the school of sexual abuse. It’s revealed Cesnik disappeared after trying to take action to stop the abuse and out the perpetrators. With the #MeToo movement dominating our social feeds, headlines and daily conversations, this documentary reveals the lengths women and men go to for justice, the difficulty victims face in being heard, believed, and cared for and the obstacles and the price people pay in trying to do the right thing.
What happened, Miss Simone?
Her voice is legendary, but few know all the challenges soul singer Nina Simone faced. A classically-trained pianist and one of the best performers America has seen, Miss Simone brought more than just music to the world, playing a huge role in the Civil Rights movement. Simone used her platform to fight for the rights of African Americans and other minorities, a fight that continues today with some of the same challenges and new ones. Let Miss Simone inspire you.
The prison system makes some people very, very rich – and 13th has the potential to make you very, very angry, especially as a visible minority. The 2016 documentary directed by Ava DuVernay (who also directed the film, Selma) looks at the mass incarceration of African Americans and other minorities. The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery in 1865. But this film explores ingrained racism and inequality ongoing in the US and other western societies, and how much work still needs to be done to ensure real equality for all.
Once in a while, a criminal case engulfs the world, with almost 24-hour news coverage and a public that just can’t seem to get enough of every and any detail. That was the case with Amanda Knox, the young American student studying in Italy accused along with her then boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito in the brutal murder of her British roommate, Meredith Kercher. The 2007 case reached peak sensationalism with Knox’s every move, facial expression, and choice of clothes reported on, critiqued, and analyzed, even behind bars. Tabloids printed Knox’s teenage diaries and painted her a hypersexualized vixen. The documentary essentially highlights the power of the press, an unjust system and how a story can be spun even with little to no evidence. It raises questions of how women are treated under a critical spotlight, and even makes you question what would you have done?
Gaga: Five Foot Two
Critics say Lady Gaga is up for an Oscar after her recent performance alongside Bradley Cooper in the new film, A Star is Born, so there's no better time to dive into this 2017 documentary. Gaga fan or not, the film is an interesting and intimate look behind the pop singer who shocked us with her meat dress, made us bob our heads to her pop hits, and wowed us with her Superbowl LI halftime performance – which also takes predominance in this film. Perfectionist, performer and everyday New York girl, we learn that underneath it all, Lady Gaga is still Stefani Gemanotta who suffers from chronic pain as a result of an injury, deals with a broken heart after the end of her engagement, and is an incredibly hard-worker who loves music and her fans (aka Monsters). The film offers an inspiring look into perfecting your craft and sharing your gifts with the world in the face of constant criticism, judgment, and a lack of privacy. It also provides insight into the world of celebrity and how us everyday folk are so engrossed with our favourite artists and stars.
It’s one of those events where you remember where you were when you heard about it. On December 14, 2012 a 20-year-old man shot and killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The shooting sparked fierce debates about gun control and violence, a fight many of the families in Newtown and beyond are still fighting along with thousands of other victims’ families around the US and across borders. The documentary is an emotional and intimate look at the lives of the families in the aftermath of the horrific shooting, and the power of community. How can we prevent this from happening again if we don’t confront the problems that brought us here in the first place?