If Documentaries Are Your Jam, Don't Miss Our Current Faves On Netflix

by Nikkya Hargrove
Originally Published: 

When all else in our life goes to hell, we have Netflix to keep us occupied. The helpful “Top 10 in the U.S.” alert when I log on intrigues me so much that I recently sat through the entire trailer of “Cocomelon” when my son caught me and said, “You know this is not an adult show, right?” Well, duh, yes I knew — but the songs were all so catchy, I couldn’t change the channel.

However, when I turn on Netflix, I typically head straight for the documentary section. I tend to watch shows that I walk away from thinking more deeply about some social justice issue, or that in some way informs how I live my life. Here are my top eight binge-worthy documentaries now on Netflix.


Standing at #6 on Netflix at the writing of this article, this is a very dramatic documentary about marine life around the world, with dramatic music to match. It opens with a scene something like what you’d see on a crime show like “S.W.A.T” or “Criminal Minds” — it grabs you from the start, and the narrator takes you on an adventure into the ocean. It takes the stance that humans have a responsibility to keep the oceans clean and to protect the animals who call the ocean home. It’s an eye-opening account of how pollution, humans, and money drive both decisions and messaging within the fishing industry. If you’ve not had a chance to watch this documentary, I highly recommend it — it’s a no-holds-barred look at the different players who impact the animals in the ocean. You’ll never look at the ocean, sea life, or humans the same again.

Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admission Scandal

In very detailed reenactments of the scandal that disgraced actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, this documentary couples what we thought we knew about the scandal with some rather baffling tidbits of information. Told through first-person accounts of how easily some parents can commit a crime to get their kids into colleges that they were not qualified to attend, the white privilege left me feeling dirty and angry. I kept thinking about Maya Angelou’s famous quote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Not these parents; they just knowingly throw their money to scam artist Rick Singer. This documentary will have you shaking your head in dismay until the last scene at the lengths some parents will go to for their kids.

Murder Among The Mormons

Traveling back to Utah, the birthplace of the Mormon religion, this is a fast-paced docu-series you won’t be able to stop watching once you hit play. It’s like watching some warped religious soap opera. The interviews are almost creepy, the eerie way each part of the church is described by different experts and church staff. It’s utterly fascinating how the cover-ups, the deceit and the exploits within the church unpack the warped story of Mark Hoffmann — the man convicted of killing two people and one of the most infamous forgers in history, creating fake documents and books that supported the Latter-Day Saints. Watch it, and you’ll find yourself saying, Wait… What? Why? And, How? Just keep watching.

Athlete A

This documentary spills all the tea in the world of gymnastics. Story after story, from gymnasts to their parents to reporters and investigators, will leave your jaw on the floor. It is a painful reminder that the voices of women, of gymnasts, of victims for years were not heard. The perpetrator, Larry Nassar, former USA National Gymnastics team doctor, was someone they were supposed to be able to trust. With coverups from the top down within the world of gymnastics, Nassar was given full access to gymnasts for over 20 years. As you watch this documentary, you’ll learn that Larry Nassar isn’t the only one to blame for harming over 265 young women and girls. It made me sick to know that even when these young girls and their parents trusted their coaches and the gymnastics world as a whole, they were all failed by the criminal actions of just so many people. This documentary will leave you feeling sad, but hopeful; the brave women who spoke out against Nassar will have the power to change the entire world of gymnastics for all athletes.

Betty White: First Lady of Television

We all need a laugh, and who better than Betty White to give us that? This documentary is an inspiring look at the life of a woman who has carried an industry that didn’t always welcome women with open arms: the world of comedy. We learn about how Betty White supported Black comedians before it was cool to do so. We learn how she recognized talent over race and how she pushed the envelope. This documentary confirms everything I thought about Betty White: she’s a force to be reckoned with. She knows how and when to push boundaries. Next year, Betty White will turn 100 years old. How lucky we are to know her, even if only as a fixture on our television screen. Not only are her career and accomplishments admirable, but this documentary reminds us that the gift she’s given us is more than what she’s given us through her craft; it’s the gift of who she is and what she stands for.

Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath

You’ll be hooked from the first episode. The opening scene alone makes you want to continue to watch it. It states “In November 2016, Valerie Haney left the International Headquarters of Scientology in the trunk of a car” — like, don’t you want to know why? Of course you do, so you keep watching. And let me tell you, it is fas-cin-at-ing! Hosted and produced by Leah Remini, the docu-series takes us on a wild ride of what it’s like to be part of the church that Tom Cruise’s infamous couch dance on the Oprah show drew attention to. In episode after episode, you think, “This cannot get any worse” — and then it does.

Elizabeth and Margaret: Love & Loyalty

After the Meghan and Harry interview, my interest in the monarchy piqued. As you’d expect, the bandage is ripped off in the opening scene about the complicated relationship between the crown and the family, as the Queen attends the funeral of her sister, Princess Margaret. The narrator says, “The Queen never cries in public, but on this day, she appears to wipe a single tear from her eye.” The black-and-white imagery takes us on a journey that tells a story of a close but complicated relationship between sisters. This is an interesting look at how the sisters navigate a system that is much bigger than the relationship they have. This documentary will inspire you to connect with your own sister, perhaps even giving you more appreciation for what you have and who you are. What makes this documentary different for me than others I’ve seen about the monarchy is that this one reminds me that they are humans who are just trying, like the rest of us, to figure out life amid the chaos.

Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer

If you like true crime documentaries, this is a must-watch. It takes a minute to get into, but like most crime shows, the narration can make or break the show. This documentary sets the tone of the time when rapist and serial killer Richard Ramirez terrorized Los Angeles. The series, as most crime documentaries do, unpacks Ramirez’s story through the lens of lead investigators Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno. In the first three episodes, we learn about the crimes committed by Ramirez — in total, thirteen murders, five attempted murders, eleven sexual assaults, and fourteen burglaries. By the fourth episode in the series, we learn about Ramirez’s upbringing, as tortured and sad as he was. It is a well rounded look at a disturbed young child who grew up to be a serial killer. This documentary will have you double checking your locks.

So stop reading and turn on your television. If you start with any one of these, you will learn so much about humanity and the lengths humans will go to, to get what they want. Isn’t that why we watch documentaries in the first place, to understand how other people live? That’s why I watch and will continue to do so. The tea isn’t always sweeter on the other side — unless your name is Betty White, of course.

This article was originally published on