16 Powerful Documentaries You Can Stream On Netflix Right Now

by Taylor Ferber

These days, there is an overwhelming amount of ways to consume media and information. There's of course Twitter, the news, blogs, and endless podcasts, but the powerful documentaries streaming on Netflix right now definitely shouldn't be overlooked. While many associate the streaming service with its infamous Netflix and chill reputation, there's so much more the platform has to offer in addition to its mindless, binge-worthy shows.

Knowledge is power, and a handful of Netflix's documentaries hold a magnifying glass up to pressing and crucial topics affecting our current culture. Some documentaries tackle politics, media, journalism, and civil rights movements, explaining the realities of people we may not know or have the chance to interact with.

Other documentaries also uncover truths about our daily lives that we may not even be aware of. There are eye-opening films on topics like food, the environment, and the law, that help explain why modern life is the way it is. There is also a handful of films on pressing social issues such as social media, and bullying.

And of course, there is a selection of docs that are inspiring and light-hearted, from the critically-claimed Chef's Table to the educational series Explained. There are a ton to choose from, and luckily, there can never be too much learning.

1. 13th (2016)

This Oscar-nominated documentary, directed by the game-changing Ava DuVernay, takes a moving and poignant look at the history of U.S. incarcerations, specifically, the horrors of racial inequality in the country's prison systems. The title refers to 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which says, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” The film includes archival footage and testimony from activists, politicians, historians, and formerly imprisoned women and men.

2. Miss Representation (2011)

With the constant overflow of media that stimulates us on a daily basis, it can become difficult to ignore or decipher the messages we're given. Miss Representation, a Sundance Film Festival nominee, breaks down the media's perpetual, sexist representation of women. The film features Katie Couric, Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and other prominent females as they discuss how derogatory the media is to even the most powerful and successful women and makes viewers wonder: What is it teaching young girls?

3. Food, Inc. (2008)

Nominated for 2009's Oscar and Independent Spirit Award, Food, Inc. gives an unsettling yet eye-opening view of mass food production in America. The jarring look at how corporate-controlled industrial food is made to be "faster, fatter, bigger, and cheaper" shows how harmful the process is to animals, consumers, and employees. Although these processes are large-scale and seem out of our control, the documentary proves how powerful our choices at the grocery store on a daily basis can be in creating change.

4. Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower (2017)

Joshua inspires viewers by proving that creating incredible change can come from someone at any age. The documentary chronicles 14-year-old Joshua Wong, who rallies tens of thousands of people (including kids) to occupy the streets of Hong Kong when the Communist Party didn't follow through in its promise of granting autonomy.

5. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014)

This groundbreaking documentary follows an aspiring environmentalist on the quest to uncover troubling issues caused by the animal agriculture industry that are swept under the rug. The extremely dangerous industry is the leading cause of global warming, water depletion, deforestation, species extinction, and ocean "dead zones." As we're in the midst of the "largest mass extinction of species in 65 million years," the film attempts to shed light on the corporate-controlled industry and why the world's biggest environmental organizations are too afraid to discuss such issues.

6. Before the Flood (2016)

Known for his passion for the environment, Leonardo DiCaprio takes viewers on his journey to learn about climate change, its dangers, and possible solutions. In the process, he meets with world leaders, scientists, and activists to get their enlightening points of view.

7. Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press (2017)

This extremely timely documentary explores journalists' struggles to get the truth behind high-profile stories and the power wealthy figures have in influencing news. The film specifically follows journalists reporting on the Hulk Hogan sex tape and sale of the Las Vegas Journal-Review, and their discovery of billionaires using their money to silence the press.

8. The Freedom to Marry (2016)

This powerful documentary dives into the fight for same-sex marriage, told by the pioneers leading the equal rights movement. The film reveals the behind-the-scenes details and efforts of the fight by its key players including its leader Evan Wolfson and civil rights attorney Mary Bonauto. The film gives an impactful, intriguing perspective of the movement and shows how one can truly create change.

9. What the Health (2017)

What the Health, created by the filmmakers of Cowspiracy, serves as somewhat of a followup revealing more disturbing details about the food industry. The film uncovers dark and unsettling truths about the government corruption that prevents Americans from getting healthier food. It shows why leading organizations cover up the truths behind causes of so much illness due to food, like diabetes, dementia, cancer, and heart disease.

10. Life (2009)

It's easy to get caught up in the chaos of our day-to-day lives, but sometimes it's important to see the bigger picture and put things in perspective. The series Life sheds light on some of the most unusual behaviors that living organisms, from plants to animals, have adapted to persist and survive.

11. Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru (2016)

A Tony Robbins documentary may seem cliche, but this one is definitely one worth watching. Viewers will feel revived with a new lease on life, as the motivational speaker lets audiences in on his life-changing workshop. With an unorthodox approach, Robbins makes attendees go to the depths of their souls and pain in order to transform them into stronger, happier people.

12. Not Alone (2017)

Given the heartbreaking increase of suicide rate in America, Not Alone is another very timely and powerful film. It follows 18-year-old Jacqueline Monetta, who is driven to understand why her best friend took her own like at 16. The film opens the conversation with teens in emotional one-on-one interviews to learn about their struggles on an intimate level.

13. Planet Earth (2006)

Talk about putting things in perspective, Planet Earth will make viewers' worlds seem small in the scheme of things. The series explores the planet, giving beautiful views of mountains, plains, jungles, caves and fields of ice and captures events like sand storms, animal migrations, and more. It's enlightening and powerful to really learn about the planet we live on and explore the places we can't actually see.

14. Chef's Table (2015)

The wildly popular Chef's Table, which has had spin-offs and is returning for a fifth season, explores some of the world's most acclaimed chefs and their journeys to creating art in the kitchen. Viewers learn about their adversities, what drives them, and what they love about bringing their unique culinary visions to life.

15. Audrie & Daisy (2016)

It's a tough pill to swallow, but teenagers are growing up in an increasingly difficult time due to social media and technology. This film follows two underage women who discover that sexual crimes against them were captured on camera. The movie explores the devastating effects on them and their families and spotlights the harsh realities of social media and bullying.

16. Explained (2018)

We're often moving so quickly through life, we may rarely stop to reflect on how certain aspects of society evolved. Whether it be monogamy, diets, cryptocurrency, or the explosion of K-Pop, Explained dives into an array of topics, leaving viewers enlightened and explaining why certain things are how they are.

Get watching these documentaries for some powerful vibes.