They say that truth is stranger than fiction. Nothing proves that saying better than a good documentary. No one knows that better than Netflix, which now offers a broad menu of intriguing docs among its thousands of other streaming options. But how to find the right ones worth your time? Look no further: These are the 15 best documentaries streaming right now on Netflix. Class is in session.
Director Ava DuVernay made a blistering debut behind the camera with 2014’s Selma, a powerful account of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via his epic march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. But she made good on that promise with this Oscar-nominated follow-up about the Thirteenth Amendment, which intended to abolish involuntary servitude. DuVernay focuses on how America’s prison system has become, in a sense, a new form of slavery in which Black inmates are disproportionately put away for small crimes, exposing another of our nation’s injustices with the same force and fury of her story about MLK.
Watch it: 13th
Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed (2021)
If you watched PBS in the 1980s, then you couldn’t avoid Bob Ross — the frizzy-haired ex-hippie who taught viewers how to paint tranquil landscapes with happy little trees on The Joy of Painting. His message was simple: There is the soul of an artist trapped inside of each and every one of us. But beneath Ross’s calm façade, not everything was as serene as it seemed. We know what you’re thinking, but no, Ross was not a bad guy who did terrible things. Rather, the “betrayal” and “greed” of the title refer to what happened with his allegedly shady business partners who tried to keep profiting from his name and upbeat persona after Ross passed away from cancer in 1995.
Crip Camp (2020)
In the Catskills back in the early 1970s, there was a summer camp for disabled teens called Camp Jened. James LeBrecht, who directed this inspiring, heartwarming film, was one of those campers whose lives were changed by the place. Documenting an era before rights for disabled people were enacted, Crip Camp beautifully combines archival footage from those years and more recent interview segments with now-grownup former campers that show one of this summer paradise’s unintended legacies: creating an entire generation of activists who fought for recognition they never should have had to fight for in the first place.
Watch it: Crip Camp
Fantastic Fungi (2019)
It’s safe to say that most of us haven’t given much thought to the lowly fungus beyond the few different varieties of mushrooms we might toss in our cart at the supermarket. So you may wonder why on earth would I want to spend 80 minutes watching a documentary about nothing but fungi? I’ll tell you why: Like the title says, they’re fantastic. Did you know, for instance, that there are more than 1.5 million species of fungi? Clearly, mushrooms are the glamor fungus here, but this fascinating nature deep dive is a visual feast of trippy time-lapse photography and wonderfully obscure factoids (fungi help clear oil spills and help trees communicate) that will make you look at your next mushroom omelet in an entirely new light.
Watch it: Fantastic Fungi
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019)
How much would you pay to get a selfie with a supermodel at an exclusive music festival on a private island in the Bahamas? This bizarre cautionary tale about fame, hubris, and the gullibility of the social media generation answers that question with deadpan gallows humor. With amazing access to Fyre Festival mastermind Billy McFarland, who happily perpetrates his fraud for the cameras, Fyre chronicles how this swindle was a mess from its overhyped beginning to its chaotic end as concertgoers showed up in the Caribbean and were treated to refugee-camp tents instead of posh resort suites as well as cold cheese sandwiches instead of five-star meals. Fascinating proof that there’s still a sucker born every minute.