5 Empowering Documentaries Currently Streaming on Netflix

  • Copy by: Daryl Lindsey

You’ll see me write about women a lot. Women’s issues, women’s rights, accomplishments of incredible ladies—these are all topics that have me itching to set pen to paper. If I could, I would write about the lives of women all day, every day. And I would be happy.

I’ve been called out by a friend before: “Daryl, why do you always write about things women do?”

There are a million easy answers to this question. I could say that I’m just writing for my audience, or that I find the topic interesting, or even just that it’s simply what I like to write about. All of these things are true, but there’s more to it than that.

I believe that when people actively choose to write, read, learn, think about the women of the world, they become part of a movement, however subtle, to normalize the experiences of women and to nudge those issues into the cultural mainstream. It is my hope that if this is done enough, we will one day live in a world where women’s rights are considered simply human ones.

It is my hope that if this is done enough, we will one day live in a world where women’s rights are considered simply human ones.

Writing is just one way to tell a story. Documentary filmmakers have the unique opportunity to use a visual medium to bring the narratives of women across the globe to light.

As technology advances and tools like Netflix and Hulu offer millions of people access to previously unfathomable amounts of visual content, documentaries (such as the ones listed below) are more powerful than ever. They have the potential to affect real change.

Here are five empowering documentaries to inspire you and widen your perspective, all of which are available now on Netflix: 

1) Half the Sky

Watch the trailer // Watch on Netflix
Directed by: Maro Chermayeff

Inspired by the bestselling book of the same name, Half the Sky tells the stories of women all over the world who are fighting against systemic oppression, thereby shining a light on the dangers of sex trafficking and gender based violence. The documentary is filmed in ten countries with narrations and contributions from celebrity advocates including Eva Mendes, America Fererra, Meg Ryan, and Olivia Wilde.

2) Dark Girls

Watch the trailer // Watch on Netflix 
Directed by: D. Channsin Berry and Bill Duke

This emotional documentary unapologetically explores Western beauty standards and the challenges those standards present to dark-skinned women in their communities and society. It offers a candid look into the meaning of skin color in black America.

3) Miss Representation

Watch the trailer // Watch on Netflix
Directed by: Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Kimberlee Acquaro

Speaking of Western beauty standards, this film fearlessly tackles mainstream media’s treatment of women and girls and the direct correlation with self-esteem, body image, and female happiness. 

4) It’s a Girl

Watch the trailer // Watch on Netflix
Directed by: Evan Grae Davis

It’s a Girl explores the growing epidemic of female infanticide, focusing primarily on India and China where more unwanted baby girls are killed each year than are born annually in the U.S. The result is a glaring imbalance in the number of males to females in the population, a disparity that leads to higher rates of sex trafficking, prostitution, and kidnapping of young girls for marriages. It is a painfully difficult subject seldom talked about, making the film’s existence all the more important and necessary.

5) Girl Rising

Watch the trailer // Watch on Netflix 
Directed by: Richard Robbins

Girl Rising tells the stories of nine young girls fighting for access to opportunity and education. Disregarding the traditional documentary format, the story of each girl is written by a well-known female writer from her home country and then narrated by one of many actresses (Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway among them) involved in the project. The film’s stunning imagery only further increases the impact of of this inspiring message.

Have you seen any of these documentaries? What are your thoughts? What documentaries on Netflix are your favorites? 

Feature Image: Girl Rising

  • lwh13

    Love this! Making plans to watch one tonight 🙂

    Warm Regards,

  • Kristen R

    I’ve actually seen all of these except it’s a girl, which I’ll now be watching, thanks for sharing this!

  • Vanessa

    Great picks! I’ve seen 2 of them, and I’ve heard amazing things about the others. Can’t wait to watch the rest!

  • Reading Half the Sky changed my life, and the documentary is just as haunting + inspiring as the book.
    It’s a Girl is painful as we see how unequal it really is for females in other countries in vastly different ways than a pay decrease in America (not saying that our issues in America are unimportant — they are!).

    Miss Representation & Dark Girls were on my Netflix “List” and now adding “Girl Rising”! Thanks for sharing, these!

    Another painful, but important one is Tapestries of Hope about the prominent, cultural lie that sleeping with a virgin will cure a man of AIDS.

  • Great post, Daryl, thank you for your advocacy for women’s issues, and thanks for listing my film! You’ve selected a perfect line-up for those who want to educate themselves on the prevailing challenges facing women throughout the world today. Sharing…

  • KellyR

    I have seen all five of these movies before I found this article. I assure you they are all worth the watch.

  • lemondrops+honeybees

    Going to Netflix Girl Rising tonight, thanks!

  • queenmoline

    Somewhat off-topic, but I can’t believe what movies came up when I typed in ‘girl’. I’m sure ‘Netflix at Night’ or ‘Skinflix’ is just around the corner, sadly. Of these, I’ve only seen “It’s a Girl”. Great movie but so sad, for lack of a better word. I’ve added 1 and 5 to my que for now.

    • CharlotteShopGirl

      I’ve seen Dark Girls and it was incredibly eye-opening. It left me with a new appreciation for what African American women go through. The others on your list sound equally informative and will definitely go on my watch list. Great post!

  • I’ve seen Miss Representation but the other ones on this list are all new to me but all sound fantastic. Thanks for the recommendations. Adding them to my watch list!

    Rae | Love from Berlin

  • Mike Hussey

    Recently I have watched “It’s a Girl” documentary on Netflix Using Netflix free account. The documentary is really amazing. I am not aware of remaining four. I will try to watch them too.

  • Cecilia Peck Voll

    Would love for you to add Brave Miss World to this list!

  • Daryl Lindsey, You have my heart. I am a 69 year old man raised by a single mother at a time (the 1950s) when that was hard. My mother in turn was raised by a single mother in the 1930s when that was close to impossible. No issues are as important as women’s issues.

    I have two daughers and one granddaughter. My daughters have to work this Black Friday. Continuing the family commitment, the mother of my children is marching with the Women’s Movement in D.C.