Netflix has now plunged into the documentary film industry. Since 2012, it has released 29 original full-length documentaries and has also sparked conversation among its viewers. Here, I give you the best Netflix-original documentaries that will leave you awestruck and passionate for change.
5.“What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)” This is a biographical documentary about the life of Nina Simone, an American singer, songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist. Director Liz Garbus takes you through the events of Simone’s entire life. Starting with uncovering Simone’s dream to become the first female African-American concert pianist to her breaking into fame, which led to the confronting of numerous personal demons. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, was the film’s executive producer, which first screened at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Simone was a musical genius when it came to piano-jazz, and used her power as a celebrity to speak out against Jim Crow laws and the mistreatment African-Americans faced in the U.S. before the 1960s. This documentary will have you rethinking about the lives celebrities may lead and the true demons that each person must deal with, while trying to uncover what really happened to the legendary voice of Miss Simone.
4. “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (2015)” In 2010, ex-convict Viktor Yanukovych won the presidential election in Ukraine for the second time. After failing to sign an agreement to join the European Union, he partnered with Russia. Citizens then began to crowd the streets of Maidan, the central square of Ukraine’s capital, to protest his decision and dictator-like power. Media and civilians captured the entire 93-days protest on film. In this documentary, events are shown through a combination of live footage and commentary by Ukrainian protesters in their fight for freedom. They even follow a 12-year-old boy who, at one point, comments that the revolution, “Wasn’t like a fictional show we watch on TV, it was a shocking reality we faced.” This documentary will leave you livid with Yanukovych's use of physical force by police but will also have you feeling compassion for those — especially the young — who took their future into their own hands while fighting for the rights we Americans hold dear. Warning: they do show people being attacked and shot in real time.
3. “Amanda Knox (2016)” This documentary follows the investigation of Amanda Knox, who was arrested in 2007 on the suspicion of killing her roommate, Meredith Kercher, while on a study abroad trip in Perugia, Italy. If you don’t remember the insane news coverage of the eight-year-long court case, this film will take you on a wild ride of the convictions and emotions that Knox experienced. Directors Brian McGinn and Rod Blackhurst do a great job of showing all sides of the case by including original footage from the crime scene, as well as interviewing Knox, the Italian police and journalists who covered the case. Knox spent almost four years in an Italian prison after being charged twice for the murder, but was acquitted in March of 2015 by the highest ranking courts in Italy. This documentary provides a great amount of detail that could change your original feelings toward Knox and cause you to re-evaluate the media’s presence in high appealing court cases.
2. “13th (2016)” “13th” is currently up for an Academy Award for the Best Documentary Feature and has already won 14 other awards after just being released in October. Ava DuVernay, the director, uses the 13th Amendment to link slavery and racism in America to the growing rates of incarceration of not only African-Americans, but of all people of color. This documentary was filmed in secrecy, and uses statistical and historical data to prove its case. It addresses the statistic that African-Americans hold the highest percentage of inmates, which is disproportional to its overall population. DuVernay also did an amazing job of gathering interviews with all sorts of people who see this issue from every side. For those of us who weren’t around from Kennedy to Nixon’s presidencies or the establishment of “The War on Drugs,” “13th” goes into great detail to show how the U.S.’s exponential increase in incarceration related to this war and that those who were being incarcerated were mostly people of color. It’s a sensitive issue, but “13th” is a must see for everyone, especially with our country’s growing tension between police, the judicial system and its citizens.
1. “The Ivory Game (2016)” If you didn’t already know, African elephants are the largest mammal species to walk this planet. However, over the last 100 years, their population has decreased by 97 percent. “The Ivory Game” follows the lives of these animals as they’re hunted for their tusks all throughout Africa to be traded and sold for billions of dollars in China. Ivory in China is known as “white gold” and has been a popular way of displaying one’s social status since ancient times. Directors Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani follow wildlife activists and local police who hunt down elephant poachers. They also uncover the trade path from Africa to China to see how poachers are smuggling large amounts of ivory into China, where only a small fraction of this ivory can be legally sold. This documentary will pull you right in with its action and its participants’ passion to end the ivory trade.
Just recently, China announced its permanent ban on the trade of ivory. This is something the creators of “The Ivory Game” have been fighting for. With this result we see that documentaries have an amazing power of bringing a louder voice to issues that may not be on the forefront of mind’s, while also creating a need for change that can’t occur without public pressure.
Netflix has taken advantage of this by producing and distributing documentaries, some on controversial topics, that might otherwise be shunned by television or other film distributors.
Maddelynne Parker is a sophomore media arts and design major. Contact Maddelynne at email@example.com.