The 16 Best Netflix Docs By Female Filmmakers


Every crop of Academy Awards nominations has its snubs and surprises, but Oscars are depressingly consistent in a few particular areas. One of those areas is the gender diversity of its Best Director nominees. (Only four women have been nominated and only one — Kathryn Bigelow —has won.) The problem doesn't start with the nominations; it starts with the disproportionately low number of films helmed by female directors this and every year. For some reason, whether it be that they're relatively low-budget or come with less studio micromanagement, women directors have been more prolific in documentary filmmaking. And the Netflix documentary section features several fascinating films by female directors. So when the male-dominated film industry gets you down, check out 16 of the best female-directed documentaries on Netflix. One of them is even in the running for this year's long-form documentary Oscar.

Every year, the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film at San Diego State University produces its Celluloid Ceiling study. This year, the center again found that documentary film was more welcoming to women; 24 percent of people working in major creative roles in documentary were women. In the top 250 narrative films released in 2016, that number drops to 17 percent. What better way to support female filmmakers while they fight for opportunity than to watch and discuss their work? Netflix makes it simple.

1. 13th

Selma director Ava DuVernay could win this year's Academy Award for her film about the role the prison system plays in legalizing and normalizing racism.

2. Audrie & Daisy

With her co-director Jon Shenk, Bonni Cohen digs deep into a heartbreaking topic: the ostracism and bullying faced by young victims of rape and sexual assault.

3. Blackfish

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite dismantles the myth of the innocuousness of sealife parks like SeaWorld in a documentary that's as necessary as it is difficult to stomach.

4. What Happened, Miss Simone?

Iconic soul artist and forthright civil rights activist Nina Simone is profiled by two-time Oscar nominee Liz Garbus.

5. Paris Is Burning

Released in 1990, Jennie Livingston's Paris Is Burning is a cultural touchstone, opening up upper Manhattan's vibrant drag scene to curious eyes.

6. Janis: Little Girl Blue

It's thrice the girl power with Cat Power narrating a deep dive into Janis Joplin's rise to infamy that's directed by Amy Berg.

7. Miss Sharon Jones!

Honor the memory of Dap Kings frontwoman Sharon Jones who passed away in November 2016 with this celebration of her fearlessness and spirit, directed by Barbara Kopple.

8. Twinsters

Two long-lost sisters find each other against all odds in this documentary about souls and soulmates. Samantha Futerman and Ryan Miyamoto direct.

9. Fed Up

Childhood obesity and the corporate machine that enables it are in the crosshairs of director Stephanie Soechtig.

10. Being Elmo

Constance Marks finds out what it's like to be the man behind (or under) one of the most beloved characters in all of children's entertainment.

11. Miss Representation

Who better than two female documentarians (Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Kimberlee Acquaro) to encourage viewers to monitor the media's uneven and reductive portrayals of women on screen?

12. My Beautiful Broken Brain

Sophie Robinson and Lotje Sodderland co-direct a Netflix Original film about Sodderland's sudden stroke and the catastrophic changes it made to the way that she experiences life and processes information.

13. I Am Ali

Clare Lewins reconstructs the life of the former heavyweight champ and social justice crusader via archive footage and interviews with those closest to him.

14. Matt Shephard Is A Friend Of Mine

The violent murder of a young gay man in 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming came to represent the immediate need for dialogue, acceptance, and stringent hate crime legislation. But this intimate film by Michele Josue honors the person, not the symbol.

15. Tig

Stand-up comedian, writer, and actor Tig Notaro lost her mother and was diagnosed with breast cancer within the same year. Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York co-direct a case study in how dry, honest humor can quite literally save your life.

16. Trapped

Released in 2016, this film could not be more frighteningly timely. Dawn Porter called the shots on Trapped, a documentary about the fierce fight to defend women's reproductive rights, particularly in battleground southern states.

Documentary would be a much poorer genre without its intrepid and insightful female filmmakers.