9 Documentaries on Netflix that Tell the Stories of Incredible Women
Take a break from bingeing reality TV and dive into the lives of these remarkable women.
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Between Riverdale, Love, and Terrace House, I've accepted that I'm emerging from winter with far fewer brain cells than I had going in. I'm trying not to be too hard on myself though: it was cold, staying in is free, gotta keep up with the culture or whatever, and so on.
Still, spring is approaching (they say it's here already, but the weather in New York begs to differ), so I might start actually leaving my house again. And when I do, I'd like to have more to talk about than the innocent non-drama drama of Terrace House or how I will never understand how the pitch for Love was approved. ("So get this: There's two boring white people in LA, they're in a relationship, and that's literally it!!!")
I can pretty much guarantee that bringing up your least favorite Riverdale character the next time you're forced into attending a networking event will be far less impressive than sharing your knowledge of oceanographer and conservation advocate Sylvia Earle. So for the sake of whoever will be on the receiving end of your smalltalk, my brain cells and yours, I've compiled a list of documentaries on Netflix about incredible women with worthwhile information.
What Happened, Miss Simone?
"I'll tell you what freedom means to me—no fear," says Nina Simone at the beginning of the Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? The film, titled after a Maya Angelou quote, has received criticism for focusing on Simone's mental illness and abuse rather than her achievements and unparalleled place in entertainment history. Still, it lets us into facets of Simone's life—like the fact that she once told Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that she was not a pacifist— that weren't part of her public narrative before the documentary. What Happened, Miss Simone? sheds light on the often uncomfortable nuances in the life of a woman who aspired to be America's first Black classical pianist, but instead became one of the world's most distinguishable entertainers of her time.
Seeing Allred profiles America's most famous women's rights lawyer, Gloria Allred. With a client list that includes Nicole Brown Simpson's family during the O. J. Simpson murder trial and women who have accused Donald Trump of sexual assault, many Americans recognize Allred's face, but are less familiar with her story. Seeing Allred seeks to change that by illustrating how the iconic attorney's own personal experience with the issues she now fights for—sexual assault, abortion, representation in the workplace, to name a few—inspired her to become the powerful legal force she is today.
GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling
The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling League, an all-women wrestling league also known as GLOW, was a 1980s televisions sensation that racked up millions of views in its four seasons on air. A 2012 documentary titled GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling caught up with the original women of GLOW to get a sense what their experiences on the first women's professional wrestling TV show were like behind the scenes, and how they felt about its abrupt ending.
Mission Blue tells the story of Sylvia Earle, an oceanographer, conservation advocate, and the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The documentary interviews Earle as she describes what led her to pursue marine biology, the sexism she faced as a young woman scientist, and the way she's seen our oceans deteriorate since she began studying them in the 1950s.
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise
The first feature documentary on the extraordinary writer and poet, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise includes exclusive interviews with Oprah, the Clintons, Common, Alfre Woodard, Cicely Tyson, Angelou herself, and more about her legacy. The documentary takes us through Angelou's fascinating life from encounters with the KKK as a Black child growing up in the South to befriending Macolm X to reciting a poem at Bill Clinton's inauguration—and how these experiences all contributed to her prolific career.
Diana: In Her Own Words
This 2017 documentary was narrated completely by Princess Diana herself, using recordings of secret interviews dubbed the "Morton tapes" that the late princess sent to journalist Andrew Morton in the early 90s. In the documentary, Diana addresses many of the scandals and accusations that surrounded the royal family in the press at the time. The tapes were in many ways intense and heart-wrenching: in them, Princess Diana revisits incidents of self-harm and recalls coping with Prince Charles's affair, among other difficult topics.
Daughters of Destiny
Daughters of Destiny follows five Indian girls who belong to the Dalit caste—India's lowest, most impoverished caste—as they attend a school called Shanti Bhavan. The school, which provides children with an education, clothes, meals, and a place to sleep, was founded in the hope of giving India's Dalit caste a chance at crossing class lines. Daughters of Destiny lets us inside these girls' homes and their dreams for a better future.
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold
Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, directed by Didion's nephew Griffin Dunne, is a Netflix documentary that chronicles the life of the famous novelist, literary journalist, and beloved American writer. From partying with the icons of Woodstock to landing a job at Vogue in the 1950s, the documentary includes rare archival footage and intimate interviews with Didion herself.
Tig follows comedian Tig Nataro in the aftermath of a breast cancer diagnosis and the death of her mother, both which came at a time when her career was thriving. Post-diagnosis, we watch as Tig remains dedicated to her craft and finding normalcy again. "As soon as I was diagnosed, everything came over me as funny," she says. "I love stand-up so much. I wanted to do it one more time."