11 Must-Watch Conscious Documentaries On Netflix (And Beyond)
In the bytes-and-pixels-dominated era of streaming entertainment, “Netflix and chill” has become a verb for describing Friday nights with a glass of wine in hand. But did you know your streaming platforms also have a treasure trove of content for the consciously minded global citizen?
Get ready to add all of these docs to your watch list to make you think, feel, and become more informed about a wide variety of topics. Netflix isn’t just for streaming Friends, but also for educating yourself about sustainability or immersing yourself in places as far-flung as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here are 11 of our top picks of what to watch online now—the conscious edition.
If you’re crunched for time, here are our recommendations for conscious docuseries!
1. The Social Dilemma
Documentary | 1h 34m
You have a new notification: you’re being mined. At least, that’s what the creators of social media are cautioning in this chilling documentary on Netflix, “The Social Dilemma.” From the creator of the “like” button to Google data ethicists, some of Silicon Valley’s greatest minds speak out on the Frankensteinian nature of social media that preys on users’ mental health and addiction, and now threatens our democracy. One thing’s for sure: after watching this documentary, you’ll want to go through your privacy settings with a fine-toothed comb.
Documentary | 1h 51m
Produced by Oprah Winfrey and Directed by Academy Award Nominee Reginald Hudlin, “Sidney” tells the story of actor, filmmaker, and activist Sidney Poitier. The film features powerful anecdotes from icons like Morgan Freeman, Quincy Jones, and Barbra Streisand, but the best stories come from Poitier himself. From growing up in Cat Island, Bahamas, to his journey to America in the 1940s, he describes how the context of place altered his identity, introducing racism into his life for the first time. The bizarre and devastating tension between Poitier’s growing stardom amidst America’s Civil Rights Movement is poignantly captured in this moving tribute, allowing for deep reflection on the social constructs we uphold and what we allow to be true.
3. Chasing Coral
Documentary | 1h 29m
SPF queens, gather around. “Chasing Coral” is a Sundance Film Festival-winning documentary showcasing the stunning beauty of coral reefs in technicolor—and the dramatic destruction of these complex animals due to climate change and pollution. Threatened by chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate found in sunscreens, coral reefs are being bleached white, leaving behind skeletons and a hole in the local ecosystem. It’s estimated more than 90 percent of coral will become extinct by 2050. If you’re not already a mineral sunscreen user, you will be after watching this environmental film.
4. Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
Documentary | 1h 48m
Universally acclaimed, “Crip Camp” is a documentary about a 1971 summer camp (Camp Jened) that was touted as a kind of Woodstock; it became associated with a magical summer that led to disability rights activism and the fight for accessibility legislation. Poignant and moving, Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company were the executive producers on this film, which won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
5. Brave Blue World
Documentary | 50m
Matt Damon, clean water activist and the co-founder of water.org, teams up with other celebrities, including Liam Neeson and Jaden Smith, in this documentary about the water crisis. By 2025, the UN estimates that 1.8 billion people will be living in water-stressed regions. From reuse to energy generation, the film explores different innovations around the world that help build a future for sustainable water. “Brave Blue World” is meant to inspire and uplift: we can all be part of changing the world and ensuring clean water is accessible for everyone.
6. Slay the Dragon
Documentary | 1h 41m
Don’t be fooled by the title—the dragon in this fascinating and vital documentary isn’t a fire-breathing beast but the longstanding practice of resetting district boundaries to impact election results (aka gerrymandering). The film makes a case for how the practice is a direct threat to democracy and only serves to keep those in power at the top. As we gear up for another contentious election season, this is probably the political doc to watch.
7. I Am Greta
Documentary | 1h 37m
For anyone who was moved by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg’s 2019 UN Climate Action Summit speech where she demanded “How dare you?” to world leaders for their inaction on climate change, this is the doc for you. Follow the passionate activist as she demands urgent action on the climate crisis, and get inspired to join the fight yourself.
8. My Octopus Teacher
Documentary | 1h 25m
This Netflix documentary follows filmmaker Craig Foster for the year he spent befriending a wild octopus in a South African kelp forest. Beautiful, mindful, and moving, this film was instantly beloved by audiences after its debut for its heartfelt storytelling about the healing powers of the natural world.
9. City of Joy
Documentary | 1h 16m
This documentary explores the lingering aftermath of war-torn Eastern Congo for many surviving women, and how they turned a dark reality into light. Bound to remind you of the world-at-large, “City of Joy” is a heart-wrenching yet beautiful testimony of how Congolese women are starting their own grassroots movement to create a safe haven and rise up. Since the organization opened its doors, over 1,000 women have healed and graduated to go back to their communities as leaders.
10. Human Flow
Documentary | 2h 20m
From artist Ai Weiwei, this doc about the global refugee crisis will leave you speechless. The film is a tribute to the people in the trenches—volunteers, doctors, relief workers—fighting to give refugees fleeing unlivable conditions the dignity and respect they deserve. More than a documentary, the film is a call to action, asking the viewer to consider the efforts they would be willing to put forth to protect innocent people from danger. Moving, compassionate, and at times tragic, Human Flow investigates the borders we keep, and when they are worth breaching.
11. The Janes
Documentary | 1h 41m
Set in the 1960’s, this film tells the story of the underground Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation, known simply as “The Janes.” Based in Chicago but serving all across the Midwest, The Janes provided abortions to 11,000 women from 1969 to 1972. Through frank interviews of Janes going on the record for the first time (some had never even come out to their families!), this doc showcases the vital and dangerous work of providing reproductive healthcare in a time when abortion was illegal.