Must-Watch Documentaries: Social Justice & Politics | Part I

January 19, 2021

Just I love to read historical fiction and nonfiction books, I also really enjoy watching documentaries. Walking away from a film and feeling like you have learned something, that your eyes have been opened to a particular issue, and being filled with a desire to implement change and spread awareness is one of the greatest sensations. I wanted to share five of the documentaries I have watched over the past few months that really resonated with me and incited those trio of feelings within me that I mentioned above. Ranging from racial injustice and sexism to failure in political leadership, these documentaries cover a range of issues yet are also quite interconnected in their message and themes of social justice.

Part I | Must-Watch Documentaries: Politics & Social Justice

Part II | Must-Watch Documentaries: Politics & Social Justice

1. 13th


13th, a film by Ava DuVernay, explores how the Thirteenth Amendment contributed to a system of mass incarceration that disproportionately affects Black Americans. Having always been interested in the inequities of the criminal justice system and particularly the linkage between mass incarceration and drug enforcement, I found this documentary to be extremely fascinating but also angering and heartbreaking as well. Weaving together history with modern movements and featuring a plethora of prominent figures including Angela Davis, Van Jones, and Cory Booker, 13th masterfully exposes the systemic racism rooted in the United States and outlines steps to take moving forward.  

2. Athlete A

As a former gymnast, Olympic competitors such as Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, and Simone Biles were my idols. I always watched in admiration as they performed handsprings and somersaults on the balance beam, nailed landings off of the vault and uneven bars, and jumped into split leaps in floor routines. As viewers and fans, we only witnessed the highlights and perfect moments; smiling faces biting into gold medals and tight hugs after successful routines. What was not displayed, though, was the mental and physical abuses that so many of these gymnasts and their predecessors endured to get to the Olympic stage. Athlete A exposes the decades of abuse at USA gymnastics as they sought to conceal reports of sexual abuse by former national team doctor Larry Nassar.

I have always been fascinated by the second World War and the terrors of the Holocaust. If you have seen any or my book lists of lists of yearly reads, you would likely already know that, as many of the novels I read are historical fiction or nonfiction books centered around World War II. Prosecuting Evil is an extraordinary film focused on the life of Ben Ferencz, the last surviving Nuremburg Trial Prosecutor. Beginning from reflections of his youth as an Eastern European immigrant to the United States and continuing beyond his years as a prosecutor restoring justice to those who lost their lives in concentration camps, watching Ben Ferencz' remarkable journey unfold and learning about his incredible commitment to justice will leave you emotional, inspired, and in awe.  

The Social Dilemma paints a harrowing depiction of the dangers of social networking. While this film does delve into the growing connection between social media usage and diagnoses of depression and anxiety among adolescents and young adults, what most intrigued me about this film was the focus on artificial intelligence. The documentary explores how algorithms implemented by tech companies are manipulating and rewiring our brains and how such techniques designed to promote addictive behaviors among users have drastically increased political polarization by targeting communities and promoting disinformation. This film was so frightening and impactful that I will likely rewatch it in the coming weeks. 

Totally Under Control is my most recent watch of all of these documentaries. Though a documentary about COVID-19 may not be an appealing pick for a movie night given that the virus is still running rampant throughout the country, this film is an absolute must-watch. Totally Under Control exposes the severe mismanagement of the White House in addressing the coronavirus pandemic and compares the United States' response to that of South Korea, which discovered its first case of the coronavirus on the same day as the US but acted swiftly to implement science-based strategies that resulted in a fatality count that is a fraction of the US death toll. Highlighting the tragic politicization of science and cost of failed leadership, Totally Under Control is both powerful and maddening. Given that it dives into President Trump's spread of misinformation and the severe impact that had on controlling the pandemic, this would be great to watch in tandem with The Social Dilemma.  


  1. I found your blog while looking through Margot Lee's blog and her comments, and I love your posts! I am a huge bookworm that is obsessed with historical fiction and World War II, so I love your book and documentary recommendations!

  2. Prosecuting Evil sounds lilke something I would really enjoy! I have been way more into documentaries this year. Thanks for sharing some of your picks!

    Ashlee |