If you feel like swapping yet another re-watch of Friends for something a little more intellectually stimulating, there are some great and thought-provoking documentaries on Netflix that are definitely worth checking out. Plus, documentaries are educational, so you don’t even have to feel bad about procrastinating from your degree…
Gloria Allred is something of a household name in the US, as a top California lawyer who has been championing rights for decades, although not many people over in the UK may have heard of her. This documentary, which features an interview with prominent feminist Gloria Steinem, follows Allred’s life over three years as she represents women in sexual assault and harassment cases. This includes some who have brought allegations against Bill Cosby and Donald Trump. The film also looks back on her activism in past decades, such as fighting to legalise abortion in the US and for equal pay in the 1980s. In light of the current #MeToo movement, Allred’s career and reputation as a fierce defender of women’s rights provides an inspirational example of someone taking on the patriarchy and often winning.
The White Helmets
This moving short documentary about the Syrian Civil Defence rescue teams, also known as the White Helmets, won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2017 – the first-ever win for a Netflix original film. It follows the lives of three volunteers who work for a team that are often the first on the scene to rescue people from the rubble after air strikes. Filmed in Aleppo, Syria, and Turkey, it shows the devastating impact of the conflict on the lives of ordinary people who remain in Syria, but the work of the White Helmets proves that common humanity still triumphs.
This is definitely not one to watch while you’re eating your dinner. A dramatic six-part exposé of the food industry, Rotten reveals what’s really going on behind the scenes in mass food production. Each episode focuses on a different product, ranging from peanuts to fish to garlic, and is presented as a mash-up between serious documentary and true-crime drama. The filmmakers uncover the dodgy practices and corruption of major food-producing corporations, as well as issues ranging from food allergies to the problems posed for farmers by bee extinction. Who knew that honey could be so problematic? Although it might have you questioning your every decision in the Sainsburys supermarket aisles, Rotten is worth a watch for the often hilariously over-the-top narration alone.
The True Cost
This thought-provoking film directed by Andrew Morgan and executive produced by Livia Firth reveals the shocking processes behind the production of cheap, fast fashion. The inspiration for the film came from the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh in 2013 which contained clothing factories and killed over 1,000 people. The documentary mainly focuses on the lives of the people who work in sweatshops in developing countries and the conditions that they live and work in, often for very low wages, in order to produce cheap clothing for major international brands. It also examines the environmental impact of this industry, including the health problems caused by pollution to the environment. Presenting the startling statistic that there has been a 500% increase in clothing consumption worldwide since the 1990s, The True Cost takes a look at the reasons why our society has become so obsessed with fast fashion. Featuring interviews with well-known activists such as Stella McCartney, the film also takes care to show both sides of the story and explain the viewpoint of those involved in the fast fashion industry.
Diana: In Her Own Words
Causing controversy when it was first shown on Channel 4 last year, this documentary uses never-before-heard footage of Princess Diana from recordings made in 1992 and 1993, when she was working with a voice coach to improve her public-speaking skills. Although it of course only shows one side of the story, it’s quite a heart-breaking tale of the struggles she experienced when thrust into the public eye at such a young age. She speaks candidly about how lonely she felt in her marriage to Prince Charles, and the upsetting experience of being constantly hounded by the press. For those of us who were too young to really experience the impact Diana had on the public consciousness, it’s an interesting insight into the fascination with her story, especially as what comes across above all else is how funny, honest and likeable she was.
– Nicole Gadras
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