Although we’re all about supporting and celebrating women every damn day, what better time to really give ‘er than on International Women’s Day, a day that both commemorates the movement for women’s rights and honours the accomplishments of badass women in the social, economic, cultural and political spheres? Speaking of badass women, turns out that in addition to being the go-to destination for all your fave soapy teen dramas and crime serials, Netflix Canada also brings the fire when it comes to documentaries that tell the IRL stories of inspiring women from all walks of life, from trailblazers in their fields—like Gloria Allred and Maya Angelou—to people who’ve overcome tremendous adversity—like Malala Yousafzai—plus a handful of activists who are sure to become your new heroes.
Here, all the most captivating documentaries about women to watch on Netflix in honour of International Women’s Day on March 8—and then re-watch later when you need another dose of inspiration.
Seeing Allred (2018)
This new Netflix doc (it only arrived on the streaming service in February) tells the story of civil right attorney, Gloria Allred. Allred has been fighting for women’s rights, and battling against sexual harassment and racism for more than 40 years, and, as we learn in the film, has experienced traumas of her own that have no doubt informed her devotion for seeking justice. Today, she is arguably one of the most famous attorneys in the United States, taking on some of the biggest names in politics and show business; in Seeing Allred, we get an inside look at her fight against alleged sexual predators like Bill Cosby and now-President Donald Trump. Whether or not you have an interest in the judicial system, and whether you’re a fan of Allred’s or not—despite her trailblazing civil and women’s rights work, Allred’s involvement in high-profile cases and fondness for press conferences have subjected her to much criticism about her own interest in fame—Allred’s personal journey and palpable passion is sure to entertain and inspire.
He Named Me Malala (2015)
In He Named Me Malala, audiences are given a glimpse into the life of Malala Yousafzai, the now-20-year-old human rights activist and Nobel Prize laureate who was shot by the Taliban for advocating for a woman’s right to an education when she was just 15. The film documents Malala’s fight for survival following her October 2012 shooting and her family’s transition to life in the public eye and Western society after moving from their hometown in the Swat Valley of Pakistan to their new home in Birmingham, England. A nice follow-up to this flick would the next episode of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction in which Malala is host David Letterman’s guest! It lands on Netflix March 9.
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise (2016)
And Still I Rise tells the story of Maya Angelou, a renowned author, poet, singer, actress and dancer (the list seriously goes on) and how her work has inspired the likes of *other* incredible women like Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, Diahann Carrol, Alfre Woodard and Cicely Tyson. In the film, we are taken on the journey of Angelou’s life starting with her childhood from the time she attended a racially segregated school in the 1940s to the trauma of being sexually assaulted by her mother’s alcoholic boyfriend at the age of seven, through her love life, marriage and professional achievements, such as delivering a poetry reading at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration in 1997. “I read those words,” Oprah has said of reading Angelou’s work, “and thought, ‘Somebody knows who I am.'”
Chelsea Does… Racism (2016)
In her four-part Netflix docuseries Chelsea Does…, comic and talk show host Chelsea Handler unpacks and explores four very different topics that have fascinated her over the years: drugs, marriage, Silicon Valley and racism. While Handler might not be widely considered an activist, in the time of a Trump presidency and the Time’s Up movement, it’s clear that in addition to delivering stellar jokes, Handler also wants to smash the patriarchy. In this episode, viewers travel around the U.S. with Handler and talk about race with a variety of guests including family members of people who have died from police brutality, plantation owners in South Carolina, former Israeli president Shimon Peres, and fellow comedians like Margaret Cho, Aasif Mandvi and Michael McDonald.
Australian body positivity activist Taryn Brumfitt embarks on a nine-week global mission to battle body shaming in the doc Embrace. Brumfitt became a viral sensation after posting a before photo of her body builder physique and an after photo of her regular body, instead of the traditional other way around. In the film, Brumfitt interviews people who have been on the receiving end of hideous body shaming and learns from their experiences. Interviewees include body positive Cosmo editor Mia Freedman, TV presenters like Amanda De Cadenet, plus-sized models such as Stefania Ferrario and OG Hairspray star and TV show host, Ricki Lake.
The Hunting Ground (2015)
The Hunting Ground tackles the epidemic of sexual assault on U.S. college campuses, as well as the apparent pattern of colleges protecting accused male athletes at all costs, even going so far as to allegedly help cover up their crimes. The film follows assault survivors and former students from the University of North Carolina, Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino, who have become anti-rape activists since their attacks. Remember Lady Gaga’s moving Oscar-nominated song “Til It Happens to You”? It was created for this film.
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017)
In this harrowing film, activist Victoria Cruz, who is dedicated to combatting violence against trans women, seeks to uncover the truth about the suspicious death of her friend, Marsha P. Johnson, over 20 years before. Johnson, a Black and transgender activist, was dubbed the Rosa Parks of the LGBTQ movement of her day and this TV crime drama-esque doc continues the fight for justice within the LGBTQ+ community in her honour.
My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014)
Lotje Sodderland is resilient and determined to recover from a stroke she had at 34 years old, and in this captivating film, she takes viewers along on her journey. After waking up with aphasia (an impairment of language affecting speech comprehension and one’s ability to read or write), Sodderland must learn to speak, read, write and live again. This heroine’s self-documentation (she shot much of the footage herself with her iPhone) of her time in the hospital, in treatment and navigating her new life is inspiring and spell-binding, and Sodderland’s journey urges those going through a recovery process to focus on possibilities rather than disabilities—a motivational theme that can speak to anyone in any challenging life circumstance, tbh.
The Women’s List (2015)
The Women’s List is a series of intimate interviews with 15 accomplished American women who have redefined contemporary pop culture. In these exclusive chats, the group of trailblazers talk about their achievements, challenges and aspirations. Huffington Post dubbed the women appearing in the doc—like Madeline Albright, Gloria Allred, Alicia Keys, Shonda Rhimes, Edie Falco and Betsey Johnson, to name a few—”feminist trailblazers” and we couldn’t agree more.
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014)
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry highlights the women who led the second-wave feminist movement from 1966 to 1971 like Jacqueline Ceballos, Frances M. Beal and Susan Brownmiller. In addition to looking at part of the history of the women’s movement, the film also looks at the present and the women who are shaping modern day history.