22 Documentaries on Netflix That Challenge Our Worldview & Make an Impact

Samantha Sutton | Mar 15, 2019 Movies
22 Documentaries on Netflix That Challenge Our Worldview & Make an Impact
Image: Netflix

Period End of Sentence documentary photo

We won't lie -- we often turn on the TV or fire up Netflix during times when we want to relax and keep our brain from overthinking. Participating in some mindless binge-watching of a ridiculous teen show? OK, bring it on. Viewing a cheesy movie on The Hallmark Channel? Um, heck yes. We love that. It's even why we've become such big fans of reality TV: When we want to escape the stress of the world for an hour or so, anything involving any Real Housewives usually does the trick.

Still, that's not to say we don't like the stuff that makes us think critically, too. We continued to be shocked whenever we come across a crime story that's based on a real story. And, of course, we love our documentaries, too.

Thankfully, Netflix has a whole bunch that are worth watching -- and not all of them revolve around the lives of serial killers and unsolved murder mysteries.

Much of what's available to stream is actually capable of opening our eyes to something we previously didn't realize was happening, or lets us in on a world that we wouldn't have had access to otherwise. Some of these must-watch stories focus on people who unfairly spent time in prison when they didn't do anything wrong, highlight a broken system in the US, or some other travesty we might not otherwise think about. There are food-based documentaries that make us wonder what, exactly, we've been eating our whole lives. And there are stories surrounding religion that are capable of making us gasp.

So, for those who are in the mood for something that'll lead to a meaningful discussion -- rather than something sweet and sappy -- here are 22 documentaries that really make an impact.

  • 'Stray Bullet'


    When someone is tragically killed in a shooting, typically, we think about the family of the person who was lost. However, this documentary doesn't just highlight how the death of 12-year-old Genesis -- who was hit by a stray bullet -- has affected the lives of her loved ones. It also shows how her death affected the lives of those who were accused, and their family members as well.

  • 'Time: The Kalief Browder Story'


    How can someone spend three years in jail -- two of which were spent in solitary confinement -- without ever having been convicted of a crime? That's what this mini-series asks and wants everyone to ask the prison system after hearing story of Kalief Browder. He was a 16-year-old who was originally arrested on suspicion of stealing a backpack, but didn't have the money for bail and never had his case go to trial.

    Sadly, he took his own life after being released from Rikers.

  • '13th'


    Ava DuVernay's documentary was named for the 13th Amendment, which prohibits slavery, except for when used as punishment for a crime. It's meant to shed a light on racial inequality in the US prison system, showing that, while slavery in the traditional sense might not still exist, it was replaced with something else that's created systemic and generational disparities, and changes need to be made.

  • 'Babies Behind Bars'

    It's not just a story line on Orange Is the New Black. Some women really do go through pregnancy while in prison. We see a handful of them in this documentary, which takes place in an Indiana prison that also has a nursery -- so that well-behaved prisoners can keep and visit their babies.
  • 'Girls Incarcerated'

    Adults aren't the only ones who spend time behind bars: In this documentary, we see multiple teen girls who are locked up in Madison Juvenile Center. Many of them come from broken homes and often end up getting re-arrested once they are released. We're also shown an especially messed up situation, where one girl served sentence, but is unable to be released until they find her legal guardian.
  • 'Heroin(e)'

    We hear a lot about the opioid crisis these days, but Heroin(e) gives us a look at some of the women -- a fire chief, a judge, and a street missionary -- who are dealing with it firsthand in West Virginia. It also talks about naloxone, and how it's used to treat those who've overdosed.
  • 'Hot Girls Wanted'


    Produced by Rashida Jones, this documentary -- later turned into a full docu-series -- follows the lives of young women who are working in amateur adult films. It shows how easy it is for someone to get mixed up in that world, follows the women as they try to find success, and shows the dark side of the industry.

  • 'Rotten'


    For those ready to see food like they've never seen it before (and no, we don't mean that in a good way) there's Rotten, which talks about all the corruption, controversy, and downright shocking practices that are happening behind-the-scenes in the food industry. It also makes a good argument to shop local, rather than buy products from big corporations.

  • 'Dope'


    There have been a ton of documentaries and series revolving around the drug problem in America, but with two seasons and eight episodes in total, this one makes sure to get the perspective from every side. That includes include hearing from the police, those who deal the drugs, those who use them.

  • 'Dirty Money'


    Each episode focuses on a different, shocking story, but the same theme can be seen throughout the show: Corruption, criminal activity, and corporate greed, which is not only happening all over the world, but also coming at the expense of the consumer.

  • 'Take Your Pills'


    While drugs like Adderall and Ritalin were originally intended for those with attention disorders, they're now more popular than ever, being used by college kids looking to get ahead at school and adults trying to succeed at work. This takes a look at these cognitive-enhancement pill and the dangers that come along with abusing them.

  • 'Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric'


    While we used to think gender was as simple as being male or female, in today's world, we now know that's not the case. That's likely why Katie Couric decided to explore the topic of gender even further, talking to individuals who are intersex and transgender about their lives and experiences.

  • 'Gayby Baby'


    This film follows kids who are being raised by same sex couples and highlights their experiences growing up with gay parents. It was filmed during a time when the country was still fighting for marriage equality and gives us a good look of how this unusual (but increasingly common) situation affects their day-to-day life.

  • 'Icarus'


    While the filmmaker behind Icarus originally wanted to show just how easy it was to get away with doping when it came to sports, the story takes a turn when he teams up with a Russian scientist, who then reveals he was involved with helping athletes cheat during the Olympics.

  • 'What the Health'


    While this one has been criticized by healthcare professionals, it's worth a watch anyway just to hear what is being said. It begins by linking diet and disease, questioning whether there's a larger conspiracy going on when it comes to what we eat. Soon, the true objective is revealed: That we should all, perhaps, be sticking with a plant-based diet.

  • 'Generation Iron 2'


    The first documentary, which came out in 2013, showed some of the top bodybuilders as they prepared to compete for the prestigious title of Mr. Olympia. The second film is more of the same -- only without the competition. This time around, the focus is on a new generation of bodybuilders and how they are working to achieve success in the industry.

  • 'Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things'


    A documentary Marie Kondo would likely approve of!

    Rather than living with a whole bunch of ... stuff, the people featured prove that it's possible to seriously downsize and live a happy, fulfilled life with less.

  • 'One of Us'


    Learning about the dark side of religion is always pretty fascinating, and in this case, it's no different. The focus of One of Us is New York's Hasidic Jewish community, and through interviewing a few individuals about their experiences, it shows how difficult it is for someone to leave that community and enter the modern world.

  • 'Recovery Boys'


    Another documentary that talks about the opioid crisis, but this time, we get to see how individuals, who have decided to go through recovery, are now picking up the pieces and trying to live successful, sober lives.

    But doesn't come without its challenges.

  • 'Audrie & Daisy'


    Those who've survived sexual assault may be triggered by this documentary. It focuses on two underage girls who were bullied and harassed by their classmates and their communities --  especially over the Internet -- after their own horrific experiences and shows the effects it had on their lives.

  • 'Blackfish'


    Animals being kept in captivity is always a head-turning topic, and it's explored in depth in Blackfish, which focuses on killer whales being kept in captivity -- and how dangerous it can be for both them and their trainers.

    This documentary really did make an impact, especially at Sea World, which began phasing out killer whale shows in 2016.

  • 'Period. End of Sentence'


    It won an Oscar for a reason!

    This film focuses on a village in India where women previously didn't have access to sanitary pads, which sometimes caused them to miss school. When the women decided to manufacture their own and sell them at an affordable price, it helped to fight against the stigma associated with menstruation and added to the economy.

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