Day 26 – 10 Netlfix Documentaries for People Who Would Rather Read

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).

Today’s post is Buzzfeed inspired.  That is, I’m giving you a glorified list of things.

A little over three years ago I cancelled my cable (part of my path towards financial freedom), and decided I would read more.  Even though most evenings I would rather spend curled up with a good book, like anyone else, I still enjoy the occasional Netflix evening – minus the “and chill” part.

What I don’t like, however, is the endless scrolling through the infinite choices of things I’ve never heard of, or worse.  Passing over gems like Sharknado and Zombeavers, one can easily become discouraged and reconsider that book. But in most cases, the addiction of scrolling simply continues ad infinitum.

Not to worry.  I can save you the scrolling. Here are ten documentaries currently available on Netflix streaming that you won’t regret spending time wathcing on a Friday evening at home:

  1. Chasing Ice – One of the best documented examples I have seen demonstrating the real effects of global climate change on our polar ice caps. A very important message that everyone should see, and then call their representatives.
  2. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey – Everyone’s favorite astro-physicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, picks up where Carl Sagan left off, reigniting our wonder of space and the cosmos in this engaging anthology. His descriptions of Earth, solar system, galaxy, universe, and our place in it all, is as elegant and inspiring as I’ve heard described since Mr. Sagan last was alive.
  3. Food, Inc. – This is another one that will get you ready to call your Congressman. A modern cinematic equivalent of The Jungle, this movie reveals the realities of the industrialized food system in the United States, and how it is likely leading to a rise in specific health problems among U.S. citizens.
  4. What Happened, Miss Simone?  – Many people know Nina Simone for her interpretation of the classic jazz standard “I Put A Spell on You.”  Most don’t realize just how deeply she was committed to civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s, so much so that it began to alienate her from the mainstream entertainment circuit, and to the chagrin of her abusive husband who also acted as her manager. The movie explores Simone’s mental decline following her departure from the lime light, and ultimately asks the question, “why did this happen?”.  An amazing and moving story about one of America’s greatest musicians and artists of the 20th century.
  5. How to Survive a Plague – In the early days of the HIV epidemic in the U.S., the government and medical establishment chose to ignore the problem. Seen publicly as a disease for homosexuals, and before the modern gay rights movement took hold, the problem was vehemently ignored in the hopes it would disappear on its own, or better yet, it would make those who had it disappear. This gripping documentary follows a group of young people who refused to accept the official policies from the authorities on the matter, and faced them head on to make a change.
  6. Exit Through the Gift Shop – Everyone has at least heard of the infamous street artist, Banksy, but I am willing to bet no one has ever heard of the documentarian and wannabe street artist Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash. This perplexing and humorous film takes you on a journey through the eyes of Mr. Brainwash, and his fascination with other people’s creations. It ultimately asks the question: how do you claim ownership to a creative idea, and at what point is something art versus merely a product to be sold?
  7. Blackfish – What can be more innocent than going to a theme park? Most of us have gone to see Shamu at Sea World – or the aquatic equivalent. But what do we really know about these giant creatures, and the dangers they pose when kept in captivity? This film explores an alleged cover up by Sea World to project its brand after a series of attacks by the killer whale, Tilikum, on its trainers. The film asks the questions: what is our real understanding about these beautiful yet dangerous mammals, and to what extent should a commercial enterprise be allowed to gamble with the lives of it’s employees and performers (both human and otherwise)?
  8. Brother’s Keeper – One of the most bizarre and fascinating murder mystery documentaries I’ve seen.  Long before the current craze surrounding Making a Murder and The Jinx grabbed the public attention, this documentary from 1992 explores the circumstances of four rural farmers brothers who live together apart from their community in isolation. One of them suddenly dies, and there are questions surrounding the circumstances of his death. The film explores ideas of “small town vs. big town mentalities” and abuses of law enforcement to coerce confessions.
  9. Bill Cunningham New York – One of the most fascinating biographical documentaries I’ve seen. Following the daily routines of veteran New York Times style critic and photographer Bill Cunningham, the movie seeks to understand what the secret is behind Cunningham’s uncanny ability to identify fashion trends on the streets of NYC. For a man that is so into documenting the extremes of expression, fashion, and luxury, we learn that the man behind the camera is one of the most modest and humble people one could imagine.  The man lives for his work. The film ends leaving the viewers with even more questions about Bill Cunningham the person, which is what makes the story all that more intriguing.
  10. Before you Know it – This film follows the lives of three gay male seniors who reflect on their lives as gay men coming of age (or not) in the most sexually liberating time in modern history. It offers a sobering perspective for younger gay men into the realities of aging as a gay man in our culture. There beautiful moments, sad moments, discouraging moments, but showing that we this journey of discovery we call Life never ends. As Maya Angelou said of aging, “We carry accumulation of years in our bodies, and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias.”



Author: Zack Hayhurst

New Yorker enthusiast, cartoon caption contest contender, book hoarder, cultural omnivore, writer

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