Top 11 Best Social and Cultural Shows on Netflix
Top 11 social and cultural shows on Netflix. Photo: decider

The world is a wild place, meaning that sometimes the documentary genre can provide an even more shocking story than fiction could dream up. Netflix has caught onto that, too, and has leaned into the genre of late, serving up some of the craziest, most compelling, and complex deep dives on fascinating real-life stories.

The best of Netflix's docs provide essential perspectives on our strange world, inspire even the most true-crime-avert to dip their toe into the mysterious water that explores complex issues that require your attention. Netflix’s documentaries are so widespread and influential that they have even reignited interest—and made developments—in some of the most high profile and criminal and murder cases of the last few decades. But remember: documentaries have their own slants, too, making the genre a compelling game of "whose lens says what."

With more than 36,000 hours of content on Netflix to choose from, it can be hard to decide what to dive into it. Is it a Tiger King or sports doc kind of night? To help you out, we've narrowed down the best documentaries, if you’re itching to expand your mind or your true crime trivia knowledge.

1. 13th

Top 11 Best Social and Cultural Shows on Netflix
Photo: Youtube

Ava DuVernay follows up her acclaimed film Selma with a searing documentary that looks at the mass incarceration of minorities following the passage of the 13th amendment. As the documentary points out, it’s not just ingrained cultural racism that results in the widespread incarceration of African-Americans and other minorities. There’s a financial incentive as well, and it’s good business to lock people up. 13th systematically goes through the decades following the passage of the 13th amendment to show how black people were targeted by the media, by the government, and by businesses to create a new form of slavery. It is a movie that will infuriate you, depress you, and hopefully spur you to action against a system that has done egregious harm to our fellow citizens, according to Collider.

2. Blackfish

Top 11 Best Social and Cultural Shows on Netflix
Photo: newonnetflix

A heartbreaking documentary - first released by CNN in 2013 but still as discussed today - which examines the practices of keeping orcas (killer whales) in captivity by focusing on one whale in particular, Tilikum - who ultimately was involved in the drowning of three of his trainers.

The effect of this documentary is legendary and it's very likely you'll have heard of it even if you haven't yet got round to watching. Seaworld reported declining visitor numbers and revenue following the 2013 film's release and in 2016 committed to no longer breeding orcas in captivity, pledging to phase out their shows, Elle wrote.

3. The Last Dance

Top 11 Best Social and Cultural Shows on Netflix
Photo: sportingnews

You don’t have to love basketball to be wholly enthralled and wowed by the 10-episode docuseries The Last Dance. Over the course of 10 hours, the story of Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls is juxtaposed with the story of his earlier life and career, and the careers of Bulls teammates like Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. This flashing back and forth always keeps things interesting, contextualizing the 1997-98 Bulls season by filling in the blanks of what came before. You’ll be amazed at Jordan’s skill and drive, but the docuseries also has some eye-opening and surprisingly candid moments from one of the greatest atheletes to ever live. If you were a fan of basketball in the 90s you’ll find much to connect with, but even if you don’t really watch basketball, The Last Dance is a fascinating chronicle of a man who spent his live striving for greatness at all costs.

4. Crip Camp

Top 11 Best Social and Cultural Shows on Netflix

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, Thegoodtrader noted.

5. Chef’s Table

Top 11 Best Social and Cultural Shows on Netflix
Photo: netflix

One of Netflix’s first original documentary series, Chef’s Table already now has six seasons of featuring renowned chefs from different parts of the globe. Each episode focuses on the life and career of a chef — highlighting their artistry, genius, and genuine passion for creating and cooking food. From Michelin-star chefs to those rallying behind the ethical use of nature into their foods, Chef’s Table is a treat for food-lovers and to those who simply love a good biographical story, Comparetv cited.

6. Disclosure

Top 11 Best Social and Cultural Shows on Netflix
Photo: Youtube

Directed by Sam Feder and executive produced by Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox, Disclosure explores the history of trans representation on the screen. Starting from D.W. Griffith’s 1914 film Judith of Bethulia and covering all the way up to Ryan Murphy’s Pose on FX, the documentary makes a dent in the long, complicated journey of trans characters in the entertainment world. A dent —we must emphasize— because as the film proves, trans activists and artists do not share an unanimous opinion on trans characters throughout the years. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Disclosure simply and effectively opens up the nuanced and complex narrative to the rest of the world, paving the way for the dialogue that is still necessary today.

7. Athlete A

Top 11 Best Social and Cultural Shows on Netflix
Photo: netflix

In 2018 the whole world watched as former USA Gymnastics national team doctor, Larry Nassar, was sentenced to 175 years and 125 years in prison after pleading guilty to 10 counts of sexual assault on minors. Athlete A follows reporters at local newspaper the Indianapolis Star - Mark Alesia, Tim Evans, and Marisa Kwiatkowski - and a group of courageous survivors - Maggie Nichols, Jessica Howard, Jamie Dantzcher and Rachael Denhollander - as they work together to bring justice to Nassar and USA gymnastics.

Athlete A shines a light on the deep-rooted problems which existed at USA Gymnastics, something which wasn’t hugely prevalent in the media reporting of Nassar’s conviction.

8. They'll Love Me When I'm Dead

Top 11 Best Social and Cultural Shows on Netflix
Photo: interprete

When Netflix finally released the long lost Orson Welles film The Other Side of the Wind in November 2018, they simultaneously dropped a documentary about the making of the notorious film. The result, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, is utterly fascinating as it not only chronicles the decades-long journey of working on, shooting, reshooting, editing, reshooting, re-editing, etc. of The Other Side of the Wind, but it also gives insight into Welles’ career in the shadow of Citizen Kane. If you’re somewhat unfamiliar with Welles’ work outside that masterpiece, The Other Side of the Wind is a must-watch, as it explains why and how he kind of faded in his later years. But beyond that, the making of The Other Side of the Wind is simply insane.

9. Tidying Up With Marie Kondo

Top 11 Best Social and Cultural Shows on Netflix
Photo: lisatselebidis

One of the signature croppings of the minimalism movement, Marie Kondo’s KonMari method for decluttering your life by deciding which items “spark joy” has had a profound cultural impact. Now, there’s a Netflix show all about it, and Marie herself goes around to different families’ houses to tidy up. If you love a drama-free, lower-key version of HGTV’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” her soft-spoken take on creating empathy for your possessions is perfect for you. It’s also the perfect show to do laundry to as Marie shares pro-tips for folding different articles of clothing in each episode. When this show was released, charities including Goodwill reportedly claimed up to a 20 percent increase in donations for the year, which was attributed to the show.

10. Last Chance U/Last Chance U: Basketball

Top 11 Best Social and Cultural Shows on Netflix
Photo: gq

Last Chance U is the stunning docu-series that follows the heartbreaking and heartwarming stories of college football players striving towards their chances at the NFL. Each season focuses on a football team from an underdog school that fosters players who are struggling to succeed in life. And now, Netflix has come together with Cheer producer Greg Whiteley to create Last Chance U: Basketball, the new docu-series that tells the honest and gritty story of community college basketball. It centers on East Los Angeles College Huskies (ELAC), a team consisted of both former D1 recruits and overlooked powerhouse athletes hustling to prove themselves worthy of playing at the next level. The rags to riches stories played out in Last Chance U and Last Chance U: Basketball are heartwarming and are a true testament to what hard work and sheer will and determination can do, Decider reported.

11. Ugly Delicious

Top 11 Best Social and Cultural Shows on Netflix
Photo: screenchow

Food is culture. That’s kind of the central premise of the Netflix documentary series Ugly Delicious, which is part food show, part travelogue, and part documentary. The show’s eight-episode first season delves deep into foods like pizza, barbecue, and tacos as host/executive producer/world-renowned chef David Chang investigates what makes a pizza a pizza, or what technically constitutes a taco. But quickly, the show hit upon the idea of charting culture through food—how does a traditional pizza made in Naples become a Domino’s pizza? What does pizza mean to the people of Italy vs. the people ordering delivery? This offered a means to explore not just how the food changes from place to place, but who the people are in each place, and why they eat the food they eat. That idea is expanded even further in the show's second season, as it explores themes of parenthood, how displacement affects food culture, and the shifting nature of what a "steak dinner" means to people. This is great viewing but beware: it'll make you hungry.

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