Has anyone ever tried to make you feel guilty about watching TV? Have they subtly (or outright) told you to spend your time more productively? Well, documentaries are the perfect solution! You can learn about important moments in history while sitting comfortably on your couch. But sometimes the countless choices can seem pretty daunting, so we made a list of a few documentaries and docuseries streaming on Hulu that we think should definitely be on your to-watch list.
The Fight (2020)
This 2020 documentary directed by Eli Despres, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Social Impact Filmmaking. It informs the public of the challenges that lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) faced during the Trump administration during five legal battles: the disagreement over the Trump travel ban, the fight for abortion access for immigrants in ICE custody, the conflict over proposed citizenship on the census, Trump’s order banning transgender personnel in the military, and the goal to reunite families separated at the border. Despite the hardships and uphill battle the ACLU faced and continues to face to uphold civil rights, the documentary is a hopeful account that encourages everyone to do their part to fight for equality and human rights.
The Meaning of Hitler (2020)
With the current rise in white supremacy and antisemitism, this documentary challenges viewers to consider the reasons we are so fascinated with Hitler and Nazism and whether or not documentaries can be made on the subject without glorifying this dictator and romanticizing the time period. If you ever had a question about Hitler, there is most likely an article or documentary that has answered those questions (including the most trivial—such as “What was Hitler’s favorite food?”).
Filmed in nine countries over three years and filled with interviews from various historians and writers, this documentary explores the pros and cons of studying this time period, arguing that while it absolutely must be learned about so as not to be forgotten, some discussions being had about the topic are leading to desensitization and minimization of the horrors of this historical era.
Three Minutes: A Lengthening (2022)
In 2009, Glenn Kurtz found three minutes of footage of a Jewish community that his grandfather had recorded on a trip from the last century. Kurtz decided to share the footage with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, but it wasn’t until 2011 that the footage was identified as being taped in the Jewish community in the Polish village of Nasielsk. To chronicle his experience of finding this footage, Kurtz wrote the book Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film, on which the documentary was based.
This documentary captures the people in this community in 1938, before it was destroyed during the Holocaust. Before the Holocaust, the community had around 7,000 inhabitants, of whom around 3,000 were Jewish, but by 1939, many were deported to ghettoes around Poland and then forced into extermination camps. Of the 3,000, only 100 members of the Jewish community in Nasielsk survived. This film allows the men, women and children whose lives were stolen to be remembered and honored by putting faces to the individuals who are, unfortunately, usually lumped in as part of a mass group of nameless victims.
The 1619 Project (2023)
Based on the 1619 Project from The New York Times, developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones in 2019, this documentary expands on the discussion about how slavery has affected and continues to influence America’s history. The six-episode docuseries hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones highlights six different aspects of the Black experience in America, broken down into: democracy, race, fear, justice, music, and capitalism. It is a powerful series that is interspersed with interviews and personal accounts from Hannah-Jones about her own experience as a biracial woman. Watch this series for a thought-provoking look at how Black culture influences America and how the dark roots of slavery are reflected in the deep-seated racism of the U.S.
Changing the Game (2019)
Following three different high school athletes: Mack Baggs, a wrestler in Dallas; Sarah Rose Huckman, a skier from New Hampshire; and Andraya Yearwood, a runner in Connecticut; this documentary demonstrates the various hindrances that each student faces in their attempts to compete in athletics. Viewers get to see how these three students advocate for themselves despite backlash from officials, parents and peers alike. High school is already hard enough, but these kids are faced with harsh criticism for simply wanting to play on the same team as their gender identity. An impactful watch for anyone who wants to educate themselves on transgender kids’ experience in athletics.
A fascinating look into the investigation and intimidation tactics used by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover to hinder Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for civil rights. The film follows MLK from 1955 until his assassination in 1968 in chronological order while describing the strategies used to try to slander him by collecting recordings and images of his extramarital affairs. It illustrates the drastic lengths the FBI was willing to go to diminish King’s power within the civil rights movement and is a captivating film that will teach you more about this formidable civil rights leader and his adversaries.
Summer of Soul (2021)
You have probably heard of Woodstock, but have you heard of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that happened that same summer? In his directorial debut, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award when his documentary highlighting this joyous celebration of music from the Black community premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. The Harlem Cultural Festival took place on six Sundays between June 29th and August 24th at Mount Morris Park in Harlem. Included in this documentary are restored footage of the festival, interviews of attendees and performers, and other commentators that discuss the cultural and historical importance of the event.
Although it garnered a huge number of attendees and featured brilliant performers like Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, and Gladys Knight & the Pips, to name a few, the original footage was left forgotten in a basement for 50 years. Not only should this documentary be enjoyed for the incredible music, but also for the way the film shows us how music can heal, comfort and inspire the masses during times of unrest.
Totally Under Control (2020)
Often, when we think of historical documentaries, we think about accounts of the past that feel distant and foreign—events that can only be experienced through textbooks or archival footage. We forget that we are living history at this very moment. In early 2020, the world was hit with an unexpected crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, we woke up to the news that a virus had made its way to the U.S., which the general public believed would be quickly taken care of but instead became a fatal emergency that led to the deaths of over one million Americans.
Co-director Alex Gibney felt compelled to create this documentary after a friend of his died from COVID-19, since he believes that the American government under Donald Trump’s presidency failed his friend, as well as many others, by neglecting to follow through with safety plans recommended by scientists and medical professionals and by continuously denying the severity of the pandemic. This documentary breaks down what went wrong, how our leaders neglected us and the ways in which more lives could have been protected.
The First Wave (2021)
The First Wave does an extraordinary job of highlighting some of the heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic while giving an up-close-and-personal look at the healthcare workers at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. It brings attention to the horrific suffering that patients had to endure and the traumatic situations that healthcare workers had to brave to care for these patients. With sensitivity, it explores the emotional and physical toll the pandemic took and discusses how systemic issues in America caused minority communities to be hit the hardest during this chaotic period. A heart-wrenching but extremely necessary film to watch in order to better understand the sacrifices that were made by front-line workers.
Featured still from "Three Minutes: A Lengthening" via Hulu