“In documentary films, God is the Director.”– Alfred Hitchcock
Reality is continuously changing. To record the events that take place in the real world and then form a full-length film or series about it takes an immense amount of courage and effort.
There is a common misconception that exists which states how documentaries are boring and attract only nerds and geeks. With captivating documentaries like BBC’s Hiroshima and Netflix’s The Social Dilemma, this perception is sure to change. Engrossing and addictive, documentaries not only impart knowledge in lesser knows topics but also adds a sense of tangibility to issues that usually seem far-fetched.
“Netflix and Chill” no longer consists of mindless binging on sappy rom-coms; Netflix documentaries are the new date-night favourites. Parents use documentaries as tools to arouse interest in children’s minds regarding events having socio-political or historical importance.
Listed here are the 10 best documentaries on Netflix right now that will surely keep the viewers hooked for hours.
Let’s get going.
The 10 best documentaries on Netflix:
1. The Social Dilemma (Jeff Orlowski – 2020)
“If you are not paying for the product, you are the product.”
Jeff Orlowski’s 2020 American docudrama The Social Dilemma is a hard-hitting, eye-opening film that will serve as a 94-minute rehabilitation programme for those hooked to social media. Disturbing and in correspondence with the truth, this film features interviews with eminent professionals and/or ex-employees from Google, Facebook, Pinterest, AI Now, Stanford University Addiction Medicine Fellowship programme, Harvard University etc. as well as rapid dramatisations tucked in between these interviews to portray teenagers’ rising addiction to social media. It focuses on the effects of social media, its manipulative and controlling nature that often robs the user of rational thinking. A perfect place to circulate propaganda and misinformation, as well as to incite violence, increase suicides etc., social media brainwashes the user by spreading various conspiracy theories while gaining access of their private data and harvesting it online to generate advertisements tailor-made for them.
The interviews are quite insightful, especially because the interviewees share certain tips to protect the users from being trapped in this vicious enslavement to social media. It is an addiction which is difficult to quit despite the menacing disclaimer it comes with. The film calls the users, lab rats to an experiment hazardous beyond comprehension; the latter has been successful in confining the former. This docufilm scares as well as shares valuable information and is a relevant watch in today’s time.
“How much of your life can we get you to give us?”
2. Miss Americana (Lana Wilson – 2020)
Lana Wilson’s 2020 documentary is based on the life and career of American singing sensation, Taylor Swift. The film focuses on a large number of topics including Taylor Swift’s journey to stardom in the highly competitive music industry, her struggle to overcome the obstacles that lay in her path, her personal demons and insecurities, family ailments, sexual assault as well as being subjected to constant public scrutiny due to lack of privacy. An emotional documentary, it not only reveals about Taylor Swift’s life but also is a direct social commentary on how various events helped build her political as well as feminist views. Taylor’s fight for equality and rights of the LGBTQ+ community and women is the highlight of the documentary.
Taylor Swift faces a lot of hate online for her actions, sometimes a lot more than stars of her stature. Her private life is the source of gossip; this documentary shows how this affects her mental and physical being. Although it has been criticized for being too “staged” and “opaque”, it is a raw commentary on the events in the singer’s life. The title of the film is derived from her song ‘Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince’ which elaborates on Taylor’s disillusioned and disgruntled stand in the sphere of US politics. The documentary humanises Taylor Swift- she is as flawed and as troubled as we are. Raw and genuine, inspiring, Miss Americana is sure to motivate people irrespective of their personal opinions regarding the singer.
13th ( Ava DuVernay – 2016)
“When I think of systems of oppression historically and in this country, they’re durable. They tend to reinvent themselves, and they do it right under your nose.”– Glenn E. Martin
This 2016 documentary sheds informative light on the suffrage and constant fear African Americans have faced. Elaborating on the American history of Black struggle, it talks about what it means to be black in America. The corrupt judicial and prison system targets people of colour; systematic racism is embedded in society. Racial oppression has never ceased to exist as the dehumanisation still continues via police brutality, lynching, disenfranchisement etc. The film is titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which abolished slavery and put an end to involuntary coercion to work, except as a criminal punishment. However, the Thirteenth Amendment has paved a path fo mass incarceration which has indirectly helped the oppressive corporations mint money.
The documentary is essential to understanding the historical timeline as well as the socio-economic impact. A fierce and thought-provoking documentary, DuVernay’s rage is apt and understandable. With magnificent interviewees sharing their thoughts and stories, the film is powerful enough to confront the public with unavoidable questions, inspiring change. The images are vivid and striking, from slave Gordon’s back being mercilessly whipped to nameless Black men being persecuted, from open casket funerals to strong Balck mothers bidding farewell to their gunned-down sons. The sense of urgency in the film is a ferocious warning to take immediate action. From white conservatives who live in denial and are appreciative of the corrupt, oppressive system to children of colour who are not aware of their rights, this documentary is an eye-opener for all as it challenges preconceived notions, while reflecting on a past, the dirt of which is still looming large over today’s society. In the wake of the violence meted out to innocent black civilians like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many more, as well the Black Lives Matter movement, this documentary must be viewed to be aware of the kind of racial injustice prevalent in today’s society.
4. Abducted in Plain Sight (Skye Borgman – 2017)
Disturbing and unsettling, Borgman’s crime documentary is quite a painful watch. It chronicles the abduction of an Idaho teenager, Jan Broberg, by her uncle Robert Berchtold twice. The latter was a ruthless, manipulative pervert who managed to convince Jan’s Mormon parents the divinity of his actions. They trusted him and were ashamed of spilling dirty family secrets; they allowed him to spend time with their daughter and sleep in her bed in lieu of trust, shame and faith. Berchtold “groomed” the Jan into believing that she could save her family if she engaged in physical intimacy with a grown man.
The parent’s willful naivety and gullibility to their daughter’s abuse are distressing. They are complicit in her abduction as they are aware of the perversions their young daughter is subjected to. Berchtold is a vile, loathsome and abhorrent creep who has tricked believing young girls using alien psychology. It is a twisted tale of Stockholm Syndrome and paedophilia, where Berchtold had continued being the threshold of love for Jan, who admitted to have never felt “the kind of love she felt with Berchtold”. The documentary, with its depraved story of abuse and a toxic set of ignorant parents, incites rage in the minds of the viewers who cannot possibly fathom the love and care the Borgman’s lacked for their daughter. It is also a commentary on the corruptions that exist in the beliefs propagated by the Mormon church with the brainwashing and manipulation. It is debatable to understand whether the documentary should make the audience wary of predators, or the evil and wishful credulity that clouds their sense of judgement.
5. The Great Hack (Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim – 2019)
Based on the infamous Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, Amer and Noujaim’s 2019 documentary represents the consequence of personal information being gathered and stored by private companies. It revolves around the personal data of Facebook users being allegedly leaked without them knowing and being stored by a British political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica for political campaigning. The data was supposed to be sold to aid the campaigns of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump in accordance with the voters’ psychological profiles. The documentary is well-crafted, where the scandal is portrayed via three different stories; David Caroll, the victim, who was denied his data profile, Brittney Kaiser, a former Cambridge Analytica employee, as well as the hero, investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who is hailed for having brought this issue to the forefront and having warned the world about Facebook’s evident hold over the ensuing Brexit, 2017 US elections etc.
The CEO of the company, Alexander Nix, is the loathsome villain of the documentary. It is a riveting watch from the very beginning as it exposes the insidious intentions of tech companies collecting personal data for monetary and political benefits. It is scary to note that nobody is safe. Data is being circulated and used all over the Internet to appease sinister motives. Even silly personality tests seem to amass information, later sold to these tech giants. The Great Hack is a must-watch for people hooked to the Internet as the film provides a warning against the lack of data privacy that exists; the lack of it is so prominent that it should be legalized as a fundamental right.
6. Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (Joe Berlinger – 2019)
Notorious and infamous, Ted Bundy and his infamous murder tactics left the world baffled. For anyone obsessed with serial killers, this crime documentary is a visual treat. It contains generic information about Bundy’s life including him escaping prison twice being convicted of slaying more than thirty victims etc. Bundy never disclosed the actual kill count and tried to evade execution three days prior to the D-Day. The confessions and manipulation recorded in various tape recordings provide an insight into this legendary serial killer’s life.
Besides being a psychopath, Bundy was depressed and was in dire need of help and attention which could have perhaps helped him turn over a new leaf. While some may criticise the documentary for romanticising and glorifying the perverse and gruesome actions of a cold-blooded murderer, it is an interesting watch. It is a story of a seemingly average man who manages to evade custody despite leaving behind a lot of evidence exposing the blatant incompetency of the cops who failed to detain him. The tapes give some insight into this celebrated criminal’s minds; how the void he thought would be fulfilled after each murder seemed to overpower him constantly. The documentary should be watched in order to understand how vile and horrid Bundy was.
“He was just a piece of garbage in the shape of a human being”.
7. Rooting for Roona (Akshay Shankar, Pavitra Chalam – 2020)
Rooting for Roona is a heart-warming yet emotionally devastating documentary about a girl named Roona born with hydrocephalus, a birth defect where her head has swollen up, and how her family living in rural Tripura deals with it. Roona was taken to Delhi for an operation which was their last hope at giving the child a healthy life. The toddler ends up having a successful surgery and was a month away from the last surgery that would have cured her when she passed away. The documentary is a tale of inspiration which depicts the everyday battle Roona and her family had to fight against the disease; “she was living on impossibility”.
It is a story about never losing hope and unconditional love parents have for their children. Roona and her indomitable spirit coupled with her parents’ relentless fight is a story that moves the audience to tears yet arouses in them to dream the impossible. The audience will fall irrevocably in love with this warrior child who is an epitome of extraordinary courage in the garb of a fragile body.
8. Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (Mark Lewis – 2019)
With an engaging pace and engrossing storyline, this crime documentary is a disturbing tale, based in Canada, of a twisted criminal, Luka Magnotta, who posted a gruesome video of suffocating kittens which sparked rage all over the Internet. He was pursued by the Internet vigilantes which turned into a “risky manhunt”; Luka later ends up brutally murdering Jun Li to mock the investigators. From animal abuse to homicide, the documentary dabbles in the most jarring issues.
The Internet users are shaken up by the grisly videos Luka posted online and are invested in hunting him down. Their deductive reasoning is commendable. The documentary is sure to make the audience’s stomachs churn in rage. They will surely be cheering for these Internet sleuths from the sidelines for having helped hunt down a sick, abominable killer like Luka. Well-documented, it induces rage, sympathy and terror, while warning the viewers to be safe and observant. It is an intriguing watch and one of the most terrifying documentaries in the true crime genre.
9. RBG (Betsy West, Julie Cohen – 2018)
A 97-minute long film based on the life and career of the notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second female Supreme Court of the United States Associate Justice, RBG is a heartfelt and poignant commentary. An inspiring tale about a spectacular woman who changed the course of history for women and other minorities by being a “voice of dissent”. Her own battles against the patriarchal system laden with sexism, gender inequality and racism, helped shape Ruth’s powerful views. It also portrays a love story of a husband and wife, thoroughly respectful and supportive of each other.
A pop culture icon, RBG is a fighter. She is a strong, opinionated woman who refused to be bogged down by the restraints placed on her by society; instead, she broke free and was called “an absolute disgrace to the Supreme Court” by conservative chauvinists. A formidable adversary to the male chauvinists, the documentary records various courtroom situations where Ruth makes eloquent arguments to talk about gender discrimination, which includes topics from women’s body rights to workplace equality.
The documentary humanises this sensation by showing tender moments spent with her husband, or Ruth attending the opera. An enlightening and emotive commentary, RBG is of essential viewing for the world to know more about Ginsburg, a lighthouse of truth, championing the cause of women and minorities by being the voice of protest.
10. They Shall Not Grow Old (Peter Jackson – 2018)
An amalgamation of coloured and monochromatic footage with resounding sound effects, voiceovers and narration, They Shall Not Grow Old is a splendid feat of art, “a distillation of war itself”. It was created using original video footage of the First World War retrieved from the Imperial War Museum. British soldiers begin battle preparations in a monochromatic backdrop whereas the battle is portrayed in colour. The audio has been sourced from BBC.
The documentary is haunting as it portrays battle preparations before a dance of death. The beginning is quite absurd where a friendly football match ends with the people going home to prepare for the impending slaughter. Instead of being a mundane and dreadful greyish nightmare of soot, smoke and fire, the images, quite contradictorily, turn bright and colourful. The voices of those alive mirrors the ghosts of their past; the anonymity of these veterans reflect the hundred and thousands of nameless people who had died fighting the war. The vivid imagery of decaying corpses, blood-drenched soldiers and an omnipresent sense of anxiety and despair is enough to induce a maelstrom of pity and horror. The lived experience of the men contains unfathomable amounts of unending torment and trauma. Mere puppets in the hands of power-hungry, mercenary bigots, these anonymous soldiers get caught in the threshold between life and death, and this is a constant reminder of how one can pay tribute to the lost souls but never bring back the joy and normalcy that was lost due to the ensuing war. Intense and fierce, the documentary will surely move the audience to tears.