6 Docs To Watch (On Netflix)
I love documentaries.
I love stories in general, but documentaries add yet another layer on top of storytelling: it's all mostly real.
Unlike a lot of non-fiction books, documentaries have found a way to compete with fictional works by telling stories in a very compelling way. The recent success of "Making A Murderer" and pretty much every single Alex Gibney documentary seem to have reenergized and reintroduced the genre to a whole new generation – which is amazing!
So I decided to put together a list of 6 documentaries (available on Netflix) that I spontaneously watched and found myself on the edge of my seat for a variety of reasons.
I like documentaries that take me out of my element and show me things that I wouldn't otherwise have seen or understood. "Generation Iron" is much less shallow than most people would assume, and it actually dives deep and makes sense out of a practice that I know a lot of people (including myself) sometimes don't fully understand. It's not a How-To-Become-A-Bodybuilder type of thing – it actually acknowledges all the sacrifices and problems that come with it.
This doc does a very good job at not glorifying the lengths that these athletes go to in order to achieve the results that bodybuilding competitions require, but at the same time, the film humanizes the people who body-build for a living and makes us relate to their commitment in doing something they love.
It's less about the practice itself and more about the tenacity and passion of these athletes. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Freakonomics: The Movie
Speaking of things that take me out of my element... Wow, these economists are just amazing!
I was already a fan of the Freakonomics podcast, but "Freakonomics: The Movie" takes the topic of Economics to the most popular, cool, accessible, and mainstream level. I know this seems like #nerdtalk, but hear me out: this documentary is for everyone. At the surface level, Freakonomics makes you rethink things you thought you knew by showing actual research and data.
The doc is divided into four parts: "A Roshanda By Any Name," which analyzes if the name you receive from your parents when you are born has a long-term influence during the course of your entire life; "Pure Corruption," which explores the apparently common practice of fixing matches within the sumo wrestling community in Japan; "It's Not Always A Wonderful Life," which breaks down the stats regarding urban crimes in the U.S.; and "Can You Bribe A 9th Grader To Succeed?," which showcases a study that wanted to prove a connection between rewarding children with money for achieving higher grades.
I highly recommend that you watch this documentary whether these subjects interest you or not. What Freakonomics does is that it makes you start questioning all of these certainties you thought you had about everything.
Hot Girls Wanted
"Hot Girls Wanted" was produced by actress Rashida Jones and it shines a light on the industry of amateur porn.
Just like "Generation Iron," it introduced me to the behind-the-scenes of a world I knew very little about. The documentary is interesting, terrifying, and important. Unlike empowered adult film stars who do their jobs consciously and by choice, this doc follows barely-legal girls who don't seem to be fully aware of what is going on and are taken advantage of by older men with money and influence.
Sundance Festival fell in love this documentary in 2015 and I was very happy to see it on Netflix. It's definitely something generations Y and Z need to watch in order to understand the implications of what they search for online. The doc introduces a heart to every face that would be otherwise dismissed as a mere object of pleasure.
On a lighter and less geeky note: "Chelsea Does" is a perfect introduction to people who don't really have the habit of watching documentaries. It is a four-episode documentary series about comedian Chelsea Handler exploring things she doesn't fully understand: technology, marriage, drugs, and racism.
The awesome thing about Chelsea is that she is not afraid of looking dumb when she genuinely doesn't understand something, and she's also not afraid of calling people out when she sees fit. While the episodes about technology and marriage are great, the doc series really shines during the episodes about drugs and racism. I was pleasantly surprised by how much Chelsea lets the audience see and how far she goes. "Chelsea Does" is kind of a low-key, comedic, and mostly personal version of "Freakonomics: The Movie."
The only criticism I have of this documentary series is that four episodes was too little. It's so great that I wish there was more for us to watch.
I'll Sleep When I'm Dead
Before you roll your eyes at me recommending an EDM documentary about Steve Aoki, hear me out: this is not quite what one would expect. "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" is very, very, very narrowly about electronic dance music. Actually, we barely even listen to any EDM during the course of the doc.
In case you didn't know, Steve Aoki's father was Rocky Aoki, the founder of the Benihana restaurant chain. This documentary explores Steve's connection with his father and the hardships of trying to live up to the greatness of what Rocky represented. It also touches on the dynamics of a father/son relationship in the Japanese culture and what it meant for Steve to be successful during Rocky's life and after his death.
It was also very interesting to understand where the showmanship Steve Aoki is known for came from. I was never an Aoki hater, but I grew a newfound respect for him after learning about his rock roots, his influence in the Los Angeles club scene, and the context behind the practices (such as cake-throwing) that happen during his concerts.
Again: you'd be surprised at how little "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" is actually about EDM.
What Happened, Miss Simone?
It's shocking to me that "What Happened, Miss Simone?" didn't become a mainstream success in the likes of "Making A Murderer."
Probably because of my age, I wasn't incredibly knowledgeable of Nina Simone's career. Of course I knew who she was and I recognized many of her songs, but I didn't really know Nina the person, Nina the artist, Nina the activist.
This documentary is by far one of the most compelling and interesting pieces of work I have ever watched. The story of Nina Simone is told in the most hypnotizing and beautiful (even if, at times, tragic) way. If you're a fan of Nina's work, this doc is a no-brainer – but if you're not really aware of her body of work, then you should definitely, definitely, definitely watch it.
"What Happened, Miss Simone?" is the opportunity for an entirely new generation to become familiar with one of the greatest American artists of all time, whose work was soulful, meaningful, layered, and just absolutely brilliant.
So I created a Flixtape (a mixtape, but for Netflix) with all the titles that I suggested in this post. Click here to check it out! And please let me know in the comments if you've seen a documentary on Netflix that I should be watching.