Netflix is known for its vast library of available documentaries. While known for producing true-crime and music-based documentaries, the streaming service deserves more credit for its efforts to detail significant events in American history.
For those who want to learn more about American history than in the classroom, or experience the country’s fascinating formation for the first time, Netflix has produced plenty of original documentaries for all viewers.
ten Crack: Cocaine, Corruption and Conspiracy (2021) – 6.7
This no-holds-barred documentary tackles the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and details how its spread devastated many inner-city communities. The film points out that, unlike the increasing experimentation with drugs in American culture before, crack created more devastating ups and downs than any other substance that existed before.
The documentary does a great job of highlighting how racism has been used by American politicians to excuse non-intervention in the outbreak. It also offers some very compelling theories on how the drugs were brought into the country with the permission of various authorities.
9 Blood Brothers: Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali (2021) – 6.9
Blood brothers tells the story of the friendship between Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali and their eventual estrangement. The documentary details how the couple bonded through their role as civil rights leaders and membership in the Nation of Islam, as well as the forces that kept them apart.
With exclusive archival footage and access to interviews with close friends and family from both parties, this documentary offers an in-depth new look at the breakdown of a relationship between two of the most influential men in American history. .
8 Remastered: Tricky Dick and the Man in Black (2018) – 7.1
This musical documentary details the music and political ideology of country music superstar Johnny Cash, leading up to his famous encounter with President Richard Nixon in April 1970. Featuring interviews with family members and close friends in the music industry, the film shows a side of Cash never seen before.
The film expertly analyzes why country music is strongly associated with conservatism, while drawing attention to Cash’s often-secret life as an activist for Vietnamese soldiers and Native American civil rights. It also highlights Cash’s shortcomings as an advocate for a refreshingly honest watch.
seven The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017) – 7.2
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson chronicles the life and untimely death of activist Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman and founding member of the modern LGBTQ+ pride movement. The documentary follows fellow activist and contemporary of Johnson, Victoria Cruz, and her investigation into her death.
Although the film draws no definite conclusions about Marsha P. Johnson’s death, the documentary draws attention to how institutional and social homophobia and transphobia played a role in Johnson’s death and its investigation. For those unfamiliar with Johnson’s story, this documentary is one of many essential films to watch during Pride Month.
6 Get Me Roger Stone (2017) – 7.3
Get me Roger Stone shines a light on a political heavyweight in conservative politics that many viewers were likely unaware of. The film’s ability to draw connections between Stone’s role in previous political campaigns, such as that of Richard Nixon, and his role in the modern-day controversies of Trump’s presidency makes it a compelling watch.
5 Edit: The Fight for America (2021) – 7.7
Will Smith and a host of other famous faces in this limited series take a journey through the history of the 14th Amendment – the amendment that granted citizenship to everyone born in the United States. Each episode chronicles the amendment’s use to fight for the civil rights of America’s most marginalized voices.
Amend is one of the best projects produced by Will Smith. Each celebrity anchor on the show uses their talents to tell the story of often unsung American heroes in the fight for citizen rights, playing a variety of roles to bring a multifaceted look at the history of the 14th Amendment.
4 Camp Crip (2020) – 7.7
screaming camp tells the unlikely story of how a rural camp for teenagers with disabilities in the 1970s, known as Camp Jened, became the base of the disability rights movement, leading to the adoption of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. The documentary follows former camp participants as they return to the site and remember the civil rights struggle in which they participated.
This Oscar-nominated film is one of Netflix’s best documentaries. For those unfamiliar with the lives of people with disabilities, the film offers insight into their stories that has never been a real platform before. For people with disabilities themselves, the meaningful representation featured in the documentary offers an example of how equality is still possible, even in the face of incredible odds.
3 Challenger: The Last Flight (2020) – 7.8
This miniseries details the space shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986, where all seven astronauts were killed after the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after its flight. The documentary details shortcomings of some NASA personnel and the technical failures that caused the disaster.
Although the Challenger tragedy is well known, The last flight gives a rare glimpse of Challenger astronauts beyond their deaths on the eve of disaster. Although the documentary details a tragic event, there is a poignant celebration of the lives of the flight crew who dedicated themselves to the mission.
2 Bobby Kennedy for President (2018) – 8.1
This limited series chronicles the final years of Robert F. Kennedy following the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, leading to his own assassination in 1968 during his presidential campaign. The series explores what made RFK a unique politician despite his family being a political dynasty, and considers what might have been under Bobby Kennedy’s presidency.
Bobby Kennedy for President is one of Netflix’s most moving documentaries, focusing on the modernity of his presidential campaign and how it would have played out today. One particularly touching episode features young busboy Juan Romero caring for a dying Kennedy, celebrated at a school in Kennedy’s honor, before his own death shortly after filming.
1 13th (2016) – 8.2
Ava DuVernay’s documentary masterpiece explains the direct line between slavery and the mass incarceration of African Americans that still exists today, all bound by the 13th Amendment. The 13th Amendment was the article that abolished slavery or involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime.
This documentary is essential viewing for those seeking to better understand how institutional racism occurs in America by returning to its historical roots. His use of statistics, historical documentation, and interviews with key figures in the civil rights movement create a feature of enormous historical significance.
NEXT: Ava DuVernay’s 10 Best TV Shows & Movies, Ranked