At times, we need a dose of shock, disenchantment, salvation, redemption, or wrath, and it’s time for watching a political documentary. There are a number of documentaries that can change the way you look at the world. They deal with the harsh realities of human conditions from various places around the globe. Such documentaries will expand the horizons of the viewers by setting them free of their prejudiced misconceptions.
Besides, a good documentary is a gem of a human document which makes us a better person. And during these times of hatred and mistrust, it is very important for us to empathize with fellow human beings. Unlike movies, burning pieces of political documentaries are hard to locate and stream. So, here’s the list of really good political documentaries on Netflix that are available to stream right now.
13. 13th (2016)
Ava DuVernay’s intense portrayal of America’s penal system, ‘13th‘ is an in-depth investigation story. The documentary puts the U.S. prison system under scanner and upturns some of the unpleasant pages of American history books. Named after the 13th amendment, ’13th’ examines the laws and culture from which the inhuman and oppressive system emerged. The investigation leads us to the roots of social inequality and prejudices. With the help of a compilation of different views of scholars, activists and politicians, Ava DuVernay gives the viewers a kaleidoscopic view of criminalization of African American identity. The documentary also scrutinizes the facts and figures behind the so-called phenomenon, ‘prison boom.’ ‘13th’ is a heartfelt tribute to the never-ending struggle of people against inequalities.
12. Fire at Sea (2016)
Gianfranco Rosi put forwards one of the haunting challenges of human civilization: illegal migration. ‘Fire at Sea’ presents its deeply humanistic tale as two timelines. In the first, we see the daily chores of the locals in a small Sicilian village on the island of Lampedusa. And, in the next, we travel with the refugees fleeing government forces of militias from African nations burning with political unrest. But the sea never seems generous to the hapless migrants as most of the immigrants struggle with their lives in dilapidated and overloaded boats. ‘Fire at Sea’ points a finger at the decision makers situated at thousands of miles away. Instead of delivering a ready-made answer to the multidimensional issue, the documentary shows how the actions of politicians cause devastating effects on the world’s most hopeless people.
11. Get Me Roger Stone (2017)
”Who is Roger Stone?” asks the documentary ‘Get Me Roger Stone,’ directed by the trio Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme. Instead of answering the question straight away, the documentary takes us to the life of Roger Stone. We see him testifying at the Watergate hearings, advising the then-presidential candidate, Donald Trump, giving a speech as an author, conducting an emergency war-room conference as an election strategist. No matter what his roles are, Roger Stone has long offended people he deals with as an outspoken advocate of conservative America.
‘Get Me Roger Stone‘ examines Stone’s crucial role in deconstructing modern politics. The documentary shows Stone as a man with multiple layers, ranging from inspirational to intimidating. The directors remind us of the timeline of U.S. politics and how it evolved from a democratic discourse to the misanthropic opera as it is now.
10. Saving Capitalism (2017)
Directors Jacob Kornbluth and Sari Gilman deliver a harrowing look at the current state of American capitalism with their documentary, ‘Saving Capitalism’. The documentary follows former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who meets with American people from different facets of life to feel the pulse of the nation’s economy. His face-to-face encounters with common people who face the harsh realities and impacts of the economy reveal the winners and losers. As the documentary plunges deep down into the underbelly of the American society, we realize that there are more losers than winners and the fewer winners don’t care about the majority of losers. The fantasy of trickle down of wealth boasted off by capitalism is exposed by the end of the immersive narrative of ‘Saving Capitalism.’
9. Bobby Kennedy for President (2018)
‘Bobby Kennedy for President’ is a standalone piece of a visual document as it features rare and exclusive footage of attorney general, U.S. senator, and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. The four-part documentary series weaves together the enigmatic persona of Bobby Kennedy in the backdrop of the vintage ’60s. We follow RFK in his transformative journey from being a typical politician who bats for his party to a visionary whose destiny is leading the resistance against the oppressors. With the help of archival footage and recorded voices, ‘Bobby Kennedy for President’ examines the ‘Bobby Phenomenon‘ of the ’60s and the legacy of RFK as an icon in the American popular culture.
8. Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press (2017)
‘Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press’ re-imagines all the drama and excitement of a sensational trial for us. Directed by Brian Knappenberger, the courtroom visual document closely follows the publicity battle between the superstar wrestler, Hulk Hogan and the notorious website, Gawker Media. As the trial captures the nation’s imagination, it pits the issue of privacy rights against freedom of the press. The documentary traces the timeline of the trial to trigger a series of debates about the limitations of the First Amendment and the privileges of celebrity life. The legal battle caught headlines for a long time because of entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel financing Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Media.
The media went crazy over the allegation that Peter Thiel is using Hulk Hogan as the weapon to avenge Gawker for making his sexuality public. The documentary tries to give a wide view of the effects of money on American journalism by adding an analysis of casino owner Sheldon Adelson’s taking over of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. ‘Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press‘ holds us tightly on our seats for its spellbinding storytelling and scrutinizing the first amendment in a sharply critical tone.
7. Feminists: What Were They Thinking (2018)
Johanna Demetrakas’ documentary ‘Feminists: What Were They Thinking’ is a milestone work in the turbulent timeline of gender politics. The documentary centers on the political and social repercussions of the word, ‘feminist.’ Demetrakas traces the developments of the feminist movement in America from the 60s till our times with all the ups and downs.
The documentary uses a series of photographs taken in 1977 when a group of women got rid of the cultural conditioning from their childhoods and embraced gender equality to evoke the spirit of the feminist movement. One thing that makes ‘Feminists: What Were They Thinking’ a must watch is the way it breaks down the stigma surrounding the word ‘feminist’ and the prejudices of a male-dominated society towards gender politics raised by feminists.
6. Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal (2015)
‘Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal’ lands us at the center of the legendary series of nationally televised debates in 1968. Directed by Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville, the documentary analyses the encounter between the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr., two big names among the public intellectuals at the time. The debate is often referred to as a defining event of public discourse in the media in modern times.
Instead of being a spectacle in which two celebrity politicians lock horns in a heated argument, the series is marked with content and substance. Besides documenting the debate, ‘Best of Enemies’ delves deep into the personal sides of the two great thinkers. Just as the historic debate, the documentary culminates as a thinking piece of substance pondering on the place and status of political debates in the world we live today.
5. Paris is Burning (1990)
Director Jennie Livingston puts our notions of race, class, gender, and sexuality into question with her intense documentary, ‘Paris is Burning.’ Being a winner of 16 awards and preserved by the United States National Film Registry for its cultural and historical significance, the documentary is a must watch as an account of the New York City’s drag scene in the 1980s.
The narrative oscillates between the elaborate runway competitions where contestants ‘walk’ or compete in various categories and face-to-face interviews with a number of prominent ball world figures. The tangible history of the struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community can be felt all through the documentary. ‘Paris is Burning’ becomes an intimate portrait of a vibrant urban community, who reinvented voguing and drag balls as a powerful expression of identity and pride.
4. The Miami Showband Massacre (2019)
‘The Miami Showband Massacre’ is an incredible take on one of the most heinous massacres during the The Troubles of the mid-70s. Directed by Stuart Sender, the documentary traces the happenings on 31 July 1975, when five people were killed, including three members of the cult Irish cabaret band, ‘The Miami Showband.’ The disaster happened on their way back home after a live performance when the band’s bus exploded at a fake checkpoint.
The culprits behind the heinous act were revealed to be a Protestant unionist paramilitary group. The documentary inquires the reasons behind the Protestant group’s selection of The Miami Showband, an apolitical rock band for their act of terrorism. Of the six members of the band, two were Protestants and the rest were Catholic.
‘The Miami Show Band Massacre’ also chronicles the legacy of the band which gave people solace and a moment of joy during the height of The Troubles. The murder of Fran O’Toole, Tony Geraghty and Brian McCoy are still remembered by their Irish fans as ‘the day that music died.’
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3. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)
David France’s iconic documentary, ‘The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson’ is an intimate character sketch of Marsha P. Johnson, who, along with fellow trans icon Sylvia Rivera, founded Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.). The trans activist group based in NYC’s Greenwich Village became instrumental in the struggle for the rights of the LGBT community. Often describing herself as a ‘street queen,’ Johnson was at the epicenter of the LGBT movement in New York City’s gay ghetto.
The documentary traces back her legacy as the tireless voice for LGBT pride. The narrative also inquires her mysterious death in 1992, which was declared as a suicide by the NYPD. But people close to Johnson always argue that version of the death. ‘The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson’ is structured as a virtual interrogation with Victoria Cruz as a detective who reopens the unexplained death of Johnson and the viewers as a substitute.
2. Last Men in Aleppo (2017)
Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad’s breathtaking documentary is a powerful political statement and a heartbreaking human document at the same time. The documentary follows the internationally recognized White Helmets, a civilian organization, who are the first respondents at sights of the military strikes and blasts. They are the first to rush to the injured with aid in the hope of saving lives. The on-the-ground documentary alternates between moments of unimaginable horror and unmatched beauty, using Khaled, Subhi, and Mahmoud, three of the founders of White Helmets.
They share the excruciatingly painful predicament of whether to flee with their family to a safe place or fight for their country by saving the injured. As a war documentary, ‘Last Men in Aleppo‘ puts the viewer right in the center of the deadly Syrian War. We are flooded with a multitude of personal stories filled with gore and fear of real-life violence.
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1. Oklahoma City (2017)
Barak Goodman’s crime file ‘Oklahoma City’ sheds light on the weird persona of Timothy McVeigh, who was the mastermind behind the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. The deadly blast in 1995 claimed 168 lives and is considered as one of the most horrific crimes of domestic violence in the history of America. ‘Oklahoma City’ systematically inquires a series of encounters between civilians and the federal agents.
The PBS-produced documentary analyses the complicated legacy of the bombings in the popular culture of the nation and contemporary American history. While digging for more evidence, Barak Goodman takes us back into the ’80s, when the far-right movements of white supremacists and anti-government radicals regrouped as militias. ‘Oklahoma City’ is a must watch as it makes a powerful critical note on the politics of race.
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