I have to apologize in advance because I just realized how heavy all of these picks are. Luckily, once you finish one of these documentaries you can check out this list for some more uplifting recommendations!
Ava DuVernay, director of 13th and Selma, rarely disappoints, especially in her representations of race and justice. 13th is a documentary about the relationship between the Thirteenth Amendment, systemic oppression of Black Americans and mass incarceration. It is challenging and disconcerting, but also engaging. Everything about 13th is well done; the motion graphics and visuals are dynamic and animated and dark, and the score/soundtrack is compelling. 13th doesn’t just tell through interviews and dialogue, it shows through animation and song. DuVernay covers such complex concepts in a very straightforward and accessible way, shedding light on some of the dark underlying truths of America. If you are interested in understanding modern racial oppression and its roots in legislation, this should be your first stop. No one is exempt from questioning their complacency when watching this film. My few words by no means do the film justice, so I highly highly recommend checking it out for yourself!
Stay tuned because she is directing a new Netflix series about the historic Central Park Jogger case (which is touched on in 13th)! Also, check out the conversation with DuVernay and Oprah, also on Netflix.
- Welcome to Leith
(CW: white supremacy)
This documentary was originally lower on this list, but given recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, it felt silly not to bring it towards the top. Welcome to Leith follows Craig Cobb, a leader among white supremacists, and his attempt to take over a small town with a population under 30. Cobb moves to Leith and calls for other neo-Nazi’s to join him and create an Aryan collective. It is eerie, disturbing and stomach-churning, but the way that the citizens of Leith fight back and push Cobb out is uplifting. Welcome to Leith is stylistically simple, and the film allows both Cobb and his cohorts, and the citizens of Leith to say their piece, a choice which reveals the twisted reality that many white supremacists believe in.
What I found most fascinating about the film (and this is likely because I first watched it in a seminar on Digital Hate) was the illustration of the way that technology and online forums have created hubs for this kind of behavior to flourish. My favorite part? When Cobb goes on reality show “Trisha” to take a DNA test for his Aryan heritage.
- Audrey and Daisy
(CW: sexual assault)
Audrey and Daisy follows the cases of two young women who were sexually assaulted and cyber-harassed in high school parties. It is difficult to find the words to even explain how this film will make you feel; the cases are heartbreaking, and the cracks, rather gaping holes, in our justice system when it comes to sexual assault cases are nauseating. There were points where I felt like I needed an intermission just because of how hard it is to become invested in these cases. However, the film keeps the viewers engaged through the heartbreak with its sleek visuals and animation, bringing the reality and gravity of these cases to life in an innovative way.
Audrie and Daisy does such a good job at exploring the vulnerability of high school age girls, and how technology amplifies that vulnerability. Many of the girls throughout the film with similar experiences said that the assault was one thing, but the tormenting and online harassing was what made the experience unbearable. The film was shot over a number of years (though this isn’t initially clear) which allows us to see vividly the toll events like this can have on the survivor, family, friends and even the town.
- Hot Girls Wanted
Rashida Jones, from I Love You Man and “The Office” co-produced this phenomenal documentary about the amateur porn industry. Hot Girls Wanted follows a number of young women moving to Miami to pave their way in porn. The viewers get a close look on the process from straight, to finish: craigslist ad to being deemed a ‘MILF’ at 25, and taking exceptionally degrading jobs to stay afloat. The film reveals the intersection between pornography, and technology as well as the shaky balance between the women’s self-empowerment and their exploitation. Porn may still be a little taboo to talk about, but as a significant contributor to our domestic economy, it is an industry that is vital to examine. Hot Girls Wanted is a great introduction into one of less talked about sectors of porn.
Netflix released a documentary series called Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On that is also phenomenal! Each episode varies in topic from online dating to feminist porn.
- Food, Inc.
Oscar-nominated Food, Inc. will always be the OG (original gangster), life changing food documentary for me. The film dives into the many horrors of the food industry in America; corporate farming and monopolies, corruption in the USDA, disturbing conditions and treatment for the animals we consume, the list goes on. For many people, Food, Inc. was really the first glimpse into a new way of thinking about food and where it comes from. It really is a staple in anyone’s documentary diet (pun intended), simply because of how important the information is. Compared to the recent documentary What the Health, Food, Inc. feels honest and trustworthy. It is far less extreme, but that being said of course it is persuasive. Not to mention, the imagery is wonderful, from sweeping aerial farm shots to thousands of cooped up chickens; Food, Inc. is very well done and a great watch.
- Get Me Rodger Stone
In Get Me Roger Stone it’s hard to take your eyes off of the ‘dirty trickster of Washington’; he’s witty, controversial, convincing, cunning and exceptionally well styled. However, Get Me Roger Stone is an eye-opener; when you find yourself wondering about our current political situation and asking yourself “how did we get here?”, this film is a good clarifier. It is so relevant. Get Me Roger Stone shows through our most recent election the showmanship that shapes, if not defines, politics, and the way information and media can be manipulated enough to elect a candidate. The film is produced and directed by newbies (one a former NY Times journalist and political commentator), and they do a great job. It is stylistically simple, and the shifts perfectly from past to present, illuminating the character of Stone, and his rise to becoming such a prominent figure in politics. Stone’s final words before the credits roll: “I revel in your hatred because if I weren’t effective, you wouldn’t hate me.”
**I was reluctant to include this because of how slimey and bigoted Stone is but, I think ultimately the film is worth the watch simply to understand how Stone and Trump capitalize off of their chauvinism