Top 10 Feminist Documentaries Streaming on Netflix

Here at Ms., we’re always on the hunt for feminist documentaries and love showcasing them on the blog and in Ms. magazine. Feminist filmmakers telling the stories of women in new and interesting ways help to push women’s issues into the cultural mainstream and highlight societal problems that otherwise may have been overlooked. And these terrific films are not hard to find! Here are 10 great feminist documentaries that are streaming on Netflix Instant right now, many of which have been reviewed in Ms.:

After_tiller_filmAfter Tiller 

Late-term abortions make up only 1.5 percent of the abortions performed in the U.S., but attract disproportionate attention from anti-abortion advocates. This film follows four abortion providers, all part of the small handful of physicians willing to terminate third-semester pregnancies. All four worked closely with the late Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in 2009 by Scott Roeder while attending church services in Wichita, Kansas. These doctors offer compassionate abortion care to women in crisis, and the film highlights the daily toll of this task–the grueling hours spent traveling from clinic to clinic, the death threats from extremists–as well as the profound sense of purpose they get from continuing the mission of their friend and colleague.

Miss_Representation_(2011)Missrepresentation

Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Missrepresentation calls out mainstream media for its limited and often degrading portrayals of girls and women. The documentary intertwines interviews with teenage girls with ones featuring famed women such as Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Lisa Ling, Rachel Maddow and Gloria Steinem. The interviews are bolstered by compelling statistics such as this one: 53 percent of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies, but that number increases to 78 percent by age 17.

MV5BMTY5MjE2MTYyMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDE3NjA2MDE@._V1_SX214_AL_It’s a Girl 

This film tackles the rampant problem of gendercide, primarily in India and China, where more girls are “eliminated” than are born in the U.S. In certain provinces, the ratio of very young men to young women runs as high as 140 to 100. This imbalance leads to increased sex trafficking, prostitution and, in China, kidnapping girls for brides. In India, a quarter of  girls don’t survive to puberty. The directors even interview a mother in India who nonchalantly talks of strangling the eight newborn girls she has given birth to. It’s a Girl helps to piece together what has happened to the 200 million girls the U.N. estimates are missing worldwide.

turlyWEB1_640No Woman No Cry

After she nearly died from a postpartum hemorrhage, former model Christy Turlington Burns was inspired to make her directorial debut with a documentary on maternal mortality around the globe. The hour-long film follows several women around the world as they deal with barriers facing women during pregnancy. It lets viewers see such  moments as doctors brusquely dismissing poor pregnant women in Bangladesh to post-abortion care in Guatemala (where nobody says the word abortion). As the narrative jumps from Turlington Burn’s New York apartment to Tanzanian hospitals, we see that women from all economic backgrounds are affected by maternal healthcare.

MV5BMjE0Njk3NTg4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjcyNTMyMQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Live Nude Girls Unite

This documentary by feminist stripper Julia Query follows about 80 other strippers as they unionize, hire a lawyer and mount a strike in an attempt to gain more worker rights. The women of Lusty Lady in San Francisco argue that stripping is a valid occupation and that they should have the same protections as any other worker. The film also exposes the wage-stealing and discriminatory practices of some strip clubs: owners who misclassify strippers as independent contractors to avoid paying fair wages, and who book dancers based on race, hair color or breast size. Live Nude Girls Unite tells the story of the struggle to organize the first ever “stripper union” while pushing to humanize and destigmatize exotic dancing.

MV5BMTQ5MzEwMjg3MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODQ5NTA2MDE@._V1_SX214_AL_Dark Girls

This raw and emotional documentary explores the challenges dark-skinned women face in their own communities and the world at large. Including a history of skin color in the United States and a collection of jarring interviews with dark-skinned black women–one of whom is actor Viola DavisDark Girls provides a candid look into the meaning of color in black America. Though the film has been criticized by some black thought leaders for portraying colorism as an internalized aspect of black pathology instead of a problem of white supremacy, its overarching message remains revealing and relevant.


MV5BMjE3MTg4Mjk2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTgzODE4MDE@._V1_SY317_CR8,0,214,317_AL_
Buying Sex

An even-handed documentary about the sex industry that does its best to explore both sides of the prostitution debate, Buying Sex contains interviews with abolitionists, sex workers, johns and politicians. This Canadian film also chronicles the heated battle over the decriminalization of sex work in Canada, following an influential Ontario Superior Court ruling that struck down laws regulating prostitution. Does decriminalization give women more freedom, or does it just give male buyers and pimps greater leeway to exploit women? The film ultimately leaves it up to viewers to decide which side they fall on.

The Punk Singer MV5BMjEzNzQxNzUxNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDY5MTY1MDE@._V1_SY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_

Director Sini Anderson captures the feminist punk movement of the early ’90s, Riot Grrrl, through a compelling portrait of Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill. Using two decades worth of archival footage and original interviews, she follows Hanna from her artistic roots in the Pacific Northwest to her activism in the D.C. Riot Grrrl scene. Even though sometimes too hagiographic, The Punk Singer chronicles the lionization of a reluctant and often-reticent hero and celebrates her pivotal place in feminist art.

 

4e796fe568061ae81e_wsm6bhae3Half the Sky

This documentary—filmed in 10 countries with narrations from celebrities such as Olivia Wilde, Eva Mendes and Meg Ryan—tells  uplifting stories of women around the world who are fighting back against systemic oppression. The film presents gender equality as the unfinished business of the our time and highlights women who are working to improve everything from healthcare to education.Though one of the faces of the Half the Sky movement, Somaly Mam, has recently been exposed for allegedly fabricating her harrowing story, it doesn’t diminish the power of this meaningful film.

MV5BMTkyNjUzOTg4MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTIyMzc4Nw@@._V1_SX640_SY720_The Invisible War

Using interviews with survivors, this documentary explores the culture of impunity that has allowed a military rape epidemic to flourish. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York credited the film as her inspiration for drafting a recent bill that aims to curb rape in the military and bring justice to perpetrators. The film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2014 Academy Awards.

Hope you’re all updating your queues after reading this! The list is by no means exhaustive, so please add other feminist Netflix doc suggestions in the comments!

 

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Anita Little is the associate editor at Ms. magazine. Follow her on Twitter.

Comments

  1. I bawled the whole time I was watching “The Invisible War” – it was such an emotional and moving documentary.

  2. Brenda Pitts, Sport Management Professor says:

    I will make time to watch these. But please stop ignoring girls and women in sport and their plight. Here are a few documentaries that cover a few issues: (1) “No Look Pass”; (2) “Battle of the Sexes”; and (3) “Glena”. Thank you; stay strong!

  3. The so-called sex trade documented in “Live Nude Girls Unite” and “Buying Sex” is in itself sex abuse. Why is there supposedly a difference between the sex trade in North America and that in poor countries – or a difference between white middle class women trapped in the so-called wonderful sex trade and impoverished women? If the women’s movement is to fight abuse, such as domestic violence, then it must also fight against the sexual abuse found in the “sex trade.” Strippers and prostitutes don’t have to be beaten up to be abused – they suffer abuse in the work that they do. It is also worth noting that while crime was less in the former Communist countries, the sex trade definitely existed – therefore, suggesting that the roots are not totally economic. Personally, I don’t see any difference between a movie star being a sex object and an impovished women being a stripper. It’s just a class difference.

  4. I watched MissRepresentation and that was very interesting but infuriating seeing how much women are repressed in the 21st century. I wish every guy would watch it.

  5. Great recommendations! I would love to add two to the list: 1) Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement. Two women who had been in love for more than forty years before they traveled to Canada to get married. After one passed away, the other one took on the long process to fight for her rights as a spouse against DOMA. 2) The Brandon Teena Story. The film “Boys Don’t Cry” is based on this story. Brandon Teena lived as a trans-man and loved women, when two men found out about his trans identity, they murdered him.

  6. Might get broader play if you didn’t use the word feminist. I know …. but people are people and may still be mad about the movement. Women included. Maybe focus on humanity theme or what if this were your mother. Sister. Aunt. Daughter.

    • No, sorry, but wouldn’t that kind of be backsliding a bit? Feminist is the appropriate word. We already have such a misguided view in modern society of what feminism is, kowtowing because it might make some uncomfortable just lets that misinformation and negative stigma persist. Using the word appropriately and showing it in a real and important light (like this post is doing) is what’s going to help that.

    • but if you don’t use the word feminist, I wouldn’t give it a second look.

  7. Don’t forget Girl Rising! Such a great film about girls’ education in the developing world, now available on Netflix.

  8. Terre Nash says:

    CORRECTION: Please replace the previous post with this one, since I forgot to include the website where the film I discussed can be accessed for free. This comment below is how my previous comment should actually read:

    This feminist, award winning, extremely powerful, 94 minute feature film, “Who’s Counting? Marilyn Waring on Sex, Lies and Global Economics,” can be seen FOR FREE at this NFB website:
    https://www.nfb.ca/film/whos_counting
    GLORIA STEINEM appears in the film and is absolutely brilliant, as she explains how Marilyn Waring completely demystifies global economics, makes it accessible, and shows the real and devastating effects it has on women’s lives.
    The film is divided into 15 short chapters and is even more relevant now than when it was made. Directed and edited by Terre Nash, who won an Academy Award (Oscar) for her film, “If You Love This Planet” (also available for free from the NFB site). In “Who’s Counting?”, Marilyn Waring (elected as the only woman in the New Zealand Parliament. at age 22) shows us how the entire global economic system is rigged; we watch birds trying in vain to get oil off their wings, as she explains how the oil spill in Alaska is seen to contribute to “economic growth”; as never before seen, we sit along side sheiks in their luxury booths as they are served caviar while watching the latest jet fighters zoom above them at a ‘weapons fair” show in Dubai; we laugh along with women in a small African village while the men tell us how they “supervise the women as they carry water”; she introduces us to Maori women in her native New Zealand as they gather seafood and show us how they actually live their economics; we go to New York and come to understand how the United Nations and the World Bank control world economic policies that deeply affect women’s lives world wide. Environmentalist David Suzuki, says: “I give the film every superlative–riveting, revealing, inspiring. It penetrates to the very heart of the global, ecological and social crisis the afflicts the world–required viewing for all who know we are on a destructive path and want to get off. You will never be able to watch the news the same way again. It will forever change the way you think the world actually works. Stunningly powerful!

  9. Good to see the word “feminist” again in the mainstream. Where have all the feminists gone? I know where to go to find feminist voices but I just don’t see them (us) in my day to day routine any more.

    • I completely agree! I was just thinking about this before. There is so much negativity weighed against feminism and a massive ignorance of what feminism actually means. I can’t speak for all feminists but I know that if I spoke up against, say, misogyny in an everyday life occurrence then I would be attacked or put down and outcasted (it has happened countless times before). I have a massive fear of being verbally or physically hurt.
      I am still finding my voice and strength.
      I gotta say with a quick sidenote – watching these documentaries is beyond empowering. It’s things like these that are helping wom*n like me to stand up and speak louder.

  10. I posted this in March 2014 for Women’s History Month to my website:

    http://entertainmentrealm.com/2014/03/19/womens-history-month-documentaries-about-women/

  11. I think Maidentrip was amazingly feminist. She believed in herself. It didn’t make it a big deal that she was a girl at all.

  12. Thank you so much for making this list, it looks like you’ve got some really great picks. I’ve been searching for more feminist media and this seems like exactly what I’ve been looking for, thanks again!

  13. All great recommendations! Adding the ones I haven’t seen to my queue

  14. Given that 90% of ACTUAL SEX WORKERS support decriminalization regardless of whether they enjoy their jobs or not, it’s really sad that, in a documentary being called “feminist,” sex work is still being portrayed in the usual classist, respectability politics-heavy style of 2nd wave/radical feminism.

  15. It’s A Girl was done by an anti-choice dude. I’d hardly call this documentary feminist in any way, shape or form.

  16. Sorry that you have been duped into thinking that Its a girl is a feminist film:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/05/it_s_a_girl_a_pro_life_movie_embraced_by_pro_choice_groups.html

  17. I just want to say that I have a very bad control problem and anger issues when it comes to females getting hurt or sexually molested at ANY age. I also have very violent ways of dealing with pieces of none human trash when I am given the opportunity. Now, as for the mental side of hurting females, I am NOT a big fan of that in anyway. You all should never stop what you are doing. I mean that. I am rooting for yall and praying for your every want and goal to happen. Now for the big kicker. I am a male, I agree with what you are doing and most of what you are saying. Your biggest fight to win is not with the males, it is with the females that don’t care and allow the males that do these things to continue in their fantasies brought to life (either by a hookeder, or strippers or buy crime) to not stand up and have respect for themselves and their bodies, family, or as a human being. When you win that fight, you will win the male side (not all, just most) of your war. Enough males to overwhelm the ones who are doing and acting how they please. I’m not pushing blame or pointing fingers, please don’t not think that. I am simply showing you how to win the war and get where you are headed. Your complete itinerary is not wrong, the path of battle and the enemies you are fighting is wrong. Sun Zu said to fight your battles where your enemies are the weakest, never fight your enemies when they are coming down hill at you and never fight your enemies where they are the strongest. Attack and run to separate them from one another to make your force stronger than theirs. I could keep going, it’s just that in order to win the war, you must know your enemy and you will know where they are weak and you will also never be surprised when they try to attack. You will already know that they are coming and prepare for your time to strike. I have a 18 year old step daughter that is on the verge of leaving, (with no where to go) or getting kicked out (she is a great kid but thinks she is smarter and knows more and she should get and have because she wants) and I am looking for advice and documentaries to have her watch to maybe help open her eyes to the real world. She is VERY pretty and I don’t want to see her get hurt and I don’t want to be on the run or in prison because of stupid males who think that they should habe just because they want. PLEASEEEEEE PLEASEEEEEE HELP ME TO HELP HER. She doesn’t know how real life is and she has watched to many movies and her mom (God bless her heart) has done WAY WAY to much to prepare the road for her rather than to prepare her for the road. I have only been in the picture for a relatively short time and I am not her dad. I care more than her does and I am trying whatever I can try and learning whatever I can learn. I would LOVE I mean LOVE to see her like alot of you, strong, proud, and educated. I want to see her make a difference for whatever it is that she believes in with her life. My email is tmsjcs@gmail .com I pray this comment goes thru and helps someone in anyway possible. I also pray that God uses one of you to help me help her or just help her. As long as she is help to see, I am happy. I don’t care who or where it comes from. Her getting the understanding of how life is without getting stupid hurt, I’m good with that. Thank uou for your time and may God bless you all and give you everything you ever wanted. I MEAN THAT

    • Anonymous says:

      Saying that women are the biggest targets for feminists to reform is absolutely victim blaming. You can not say “Your biggest fight to win is not with the males, it is with the females that don’t care and allow the males that do these things to continue in their fantasies brought to life (either by a hookeder, or strippers or buy crime) to not stand up and have respect for themselves and their bodies, family, or as a human being” and then retract it by saying you are not pointing fingers. That is exactly what you did. Maybe you can help your stepdaughter by listening to her, by doing research on what women say they need from men (shut your brain and theories off and just LISTEN) and by doing research on “victim blaming”. That seems like a good place to start. I don’t care to go into how damaging it is to say that the abuse women face is only there because we “allow” it, or aren’t fighting hard enough. Your disclaimer that you are a man was not needed. I knew it by the second sentence. Everything you said was problematic.

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