Documentaries offer an interesting insight into the world through the eyes of someone else and are of course gripping and engaging, but can simultaneously educate audiences on topics that we would not normally consider giving so much thought to. With visual aids, narration, and sometimes interviews, there are endless opportunities for documentaries to tackle an array of serious societal topics that are well-researched and thought-provoking, which leave us speechless and can open our eyes to a whole new perspective on life. Over the years, Netflix has graced us with a slew of incredibly interesting and eye-opening documentaries, and here are some of the best.
7 The Innocence Files
Fans have been moved to tears and motivated to fight for justice with Netflix’s true crime documentary The Innocence Files. Many viewers took to social media to share their thoughts on the documentary, and it’s clear to say that everyone was extremely shocked. This docuseries uses real cases of individuals who were wrongfully convicted and highlights the often horrifically untrustworthy criminal justice system. Viewers were shown three different cases of wrongful imprisonment, where there were misuse of forensic evidence, false eyewitness testimonies and prosecutorial misconduct. The series ultimately exposes how false convictions are a result of a corrupt system that has been specifically designed because, as executive producer and director of one of the episodes Alex Gibney said, it has become more about winning rather than finding the truth or real justice. It is extremely eye-opening to get to be behind the scenes and be shown exactly how unfair and heartbreaking it is for those who are wrongfully convicted, as well as motivating us to try and make a change and be more aware of such horrible occurrences.
6 Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak
The timing of this documentary’s release was simply disturbing and incredible. Released in January 2020, Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak ironically revolves around how to prevent the outbreak of the exact kind of global pandemic the world would experience within months of its release, and looks at the dangers and science of things like Spanish Flu or Ebola (or now COVID-19). Seeing how a viral outbreak begins and spreads is extremely eye-opening for the viewers, as it illuminates the importance of vaccinations and the struggles of developing these. In our current global sociopolitical situation (and especially in the West), this documentary may be very enlightening and assist us in understanding the detrimental affect it has on society and the lives of those affected, and ultimately what we can do to help prevent a pandemic.
Director Ava DuVernay was the first black woman director to have her film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture with her 2015 film Selma. She followed this up with an Oscar nomination for an equally powerful film about race and injustice, but in the modern day. Through an eye-opening documentation of the racial inequality and history of criminal justice in the US, her documentary, 13th, will stay with you for some time after viewing. With American politics in a particularly tumultuous state, 13th explores the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution that abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime. The documentary is incredibly revealing, as it explains how the abolition created the opportunity to exploit the legal system as the discrimination against Black people in the US and targeting them as criminals is still prevalent in today’s society. With modern prisons being used to suppress and disenfranchise Black Americans despite the 13th Amendment’s abolition, 13th is unfortunately still as timely (and eye-opening) as ever.
Many viewers were overwhelmed by the cuteness that was presented to our screens in 2010 with the eye-opening documentary Babies. 36 scientists followed 15 babies over the first year of their lives to examine their behavior, on the premise that we can help find what it means to be human in our babies. The documentary reveals how stress, food, and sleep can affect both the baby and their parents, and is full of interesting, mind-enriching scientific facts that are extremely valuable to us as human beings (and parents).
3 Making a Murderer
Another true crime / wrongful conviction series that allows us to imagine being locked away for 18 years for a crime we did not commit, which is exactly what happened to Steven Avery. In 2015, Netflix released the docuseries Making a Murdererwhich became a pop culture sensation and has helped define what the true crime genre is today. Steven Avery was convicted for not just one, but two murders, which he claimed were allegedly framed (and to this day still claims innocence for); the documentary details everything from his childhood to his release from prison, but what happened after his release is perhaps even more shocking than the wrongful conviction itself. The documentary is a rollercoaster of events for the viewer and is extremely eye-opening as we get to see behind the scenes of the case. It also taps into the scary realization that wrongful convictions are extremely dangerous and can actually happen to anyone. It not only prompted the case to be reviewed but was the documentary that began the surge in true crime content on Netflix, and (with the podcast Serial) is what began our addiction to solving these crimes.
2 Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things
This motivational, social, and cultural documentary explores the appreciation of the important things in life, with the idea that less is more. Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus take the audience on a journey of how to live a more meaningful life with less in their Netflix documentary Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. As viewers, we witness people from all walks of life learning to let go and sacrifice their belongings in order to tackle the present-day problem that is contemporary consumption, the idea that material things bring happiness. The meaning of this documentary is in its attempt to make the viewer think about their own life and all the meaningless things that they might hold onto, that may bring us material joy, but ultimately does not make us truly happy in life. We are challenged to ask ourselves “do I really need this?” or “will this make me happy?” in this eye-opening and enlightening documentary.
1 Surviving Death
What happens after we die? That is possibly one of the biggest (if not the biggest) unanswered question in the world. Surviving Death explores a variety of paranormal phenomena as well as personal experiences and research into what happens after death. The exploration into people’s experiences surrounding death, psychic mediumship, and reincarnation is an incredibly eye-opening experience for those who do not tend to think too deeply into topics like death and near-death experiences. Surviving Death allows the audience to open their mind to the possibility of something that is outside what we already know, which is something we do not tend to do because it is scary and out of our comfort zone, even if the awareness and / or fear of mortality is one of the driving forces behind much of life. As humans, we are very afraid of the unknown and of situations that are out of our control, though this documentary challenges us to channel that fear and delve into something completely mysterious.
Whether you’re religious, spiritual, or even a bit of a skeptic, there is no denying that after watching Surviving Death, you automatically think “what if?” The documentary is clever in this sense, because it creates ample room for the skeptics, leaving it up to the viewer to think about; it is almost as if it plants the seed in your head and leaves you to do with it what you want. This is because everyone has thought about death before, what happens or what it will be likewhether you believe in anything or not, and although we will never truly know until it is our time, it is fascinating to open our minds to the possibility of it.
The three-part Kanye documentary intimately chronicles the notorious but iconic mogul over the course of two incredibly wild decades.
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