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Documentaries can be a powerful cultural and political force with a potential to grab the attention of the masses and generate real, noticeable social change. Documentaries, by nature, are often provocative, uncovering ugly truths that we would prefer to have remain below the surface and out of our collective consciousness. Whether it's exposing flaws in our criminal justice system or uncovering potential animal rights violations, documentaries frequently explore issues that have been previously overlooked or neglected. And sometimes, when some documentaries gain enough momentum, it's hard to ignore their impact.
In the last few years, a number of documentaries have brought widespread attention to issues that, in the past, had been limited to discussion in feminist circles. As documentaries often challenge the status quo, it's understandable that they would be an effective medium for a movement that seeks to do the same. Below is a list of five feminist documentaries on Netflix that are available to watch now.
The Hunting Ground (2015)
Due to a notable amount of publicity, most of us have probably heard of The Hunting Ground, Kirby Dick's critically acclaimed documentary on campus sexual assault. And now, it is finally available on Netflix. The film focuses on both male and female students who allege that they were sexually assaulted at their college or university and, instead of having their complaints adequately addressed, were either ignored by college administrators or tasked with navigating a complex, frustrating, and demoralizing bureaucratic system.
The stories of Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, two University of North Carolina students who filed a Title IX complaint against the university and cofounded the group End Rape on Campus, are featured prominently, and the film also focuses on the rape accusation against former Florida State star quarterback Jameis Winston. Recently, The Hunting Ground took center stage at this year's Academy Awards when Lady Gaga delivered a moving performance of the film's original song, "Til It Happens to You."
Hot Girls Wanted (2015)
Directed by Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus and notably produced by Rashida Jones, Hot Girls Wanted closely profiles five eighteen to twenty-five-year-old women who discuss both their motivations for becoming amateur pornography performers and their experiences working in the industry. The film's title is a reference to the Craigslist ads that effectively catch the attention of young women across the country, with promises of money, fame, and other incentives.
Technology, the film reveals, has not only increased access to pornography but also has made it easier for young women to join the industry. In the interviews, many of the women express how their participation in the industry has led to feelings of empowerment, but the film also highlights their moments of uncertainty and insecurity. Hot Girls Wanted is careful not to exploit or condemn the women it features while it provides a powerful and detailed examination of a subject that is often pushed aside or ignored.
Girl Rising (2013)
Across the world, sixty-two million girls are not in school due to obstacles such as "early marriage, gender-based violence, domestic slavery, and sex trafficking," according to the Girl Rising website. Increasing accessibility to girls' education is key to stopping the generational cycle of poverty in developing countries, and The White House reports that countries that have more girls in secondary school have "lower maternal mortality rates, lower infant mortality rates, lower rates of HIV/AIDS, and better child nutrition."
Girl Rising is one piece of the puzzle in the movement to address the importance of girls' education worldwide. The documentary features nine girls across the world, from Cambodia and Haiti to Peru and India; each has a heartfelt story about her personal struggle to overcome social and cultural barriers in order to achieve her dreams. Each girl's story is written by an author from her home country and narrated by notable actors including Kerry Washington, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, and Meryl Streep.
Dark Girls (2011)
Dark Girls is an exploration from directors Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry on the ingrained bias outside of and within black culture against black women with darker skin color. For so long, our culture has firmly associated being white or light-skinned with the positive and being dark-skinned with the negative. The film details the struggles due to preconception and prejudice that many dark-skinned women face as they seek social acceptance, upward mobility, and romantic partners in our culture.
Numerous dark-skinned women, including actress Viola Davis, are interviewed, and they explain how their dark skin led to taunts and insults from peers during adolescence, leaving them with lowered confidence and self-worth. Davis recalls how, as a child, she never saw a positive representation on television or in other media of people who looked like her, and this absence is still an issue that persists today. The film also examines the phenomenon of how some dark-skinned women—both in and outside of the United States—seek skin lightening cream in an attempt to emulate and conform to the beauty standards of white women.
Miss Representation (2011)
Directed, written, and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Miss Representation focuses on the underrepresentation of women in powerful and influential spheres, arguing that mainstream media's often limited and negative portrayals of women have contributed to this phenomenon. The media's detrimental message that women are ultimately only worthy or valuable if they are young, beautiful, and sexual has not only prevented many young girls from feeling empowered but also has discouraged them from aspiring to become future leaders.
Miss Representation includes interviews with young girls that reveal how the media's messages can take a toll on their self-esteem and confidence. Notable women including actresses Geena Davis and Rosario Dawson, television anchors Katie Couric and Rachel Maddow, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, and activist Gloria Steinem also provide commentary.