10 Netflix Movies Highlighting the Importance of Human Rights

The topic of human rights is weighty. There are countless books and articles, but for those short on time or who want a different type of experience, movies can be informative and powerful, as well. They often lack the nuance and detail that a book or article can explore, but movies capture your attention and encourage further learning. They can also make you feel something in a way that reading a book perhaps can’t. Here are 10 human rights movies available on Netflix:

13th (2016)

Director: Ava DuVernay

Originally released on Netflix in 2016, this documentary returned to the spotlight following the 2020 summer protests surrounding racial justice and police brutality in the United States. Named after the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery except as a punishment for crime, the film traces how the United States continues to oppress Black people through systems like Jim Crow laws and incarceration. The film makes its case through historical footage and commentary from experts like Bryan Stevenson, Michelle Alexander, Angela Davis, and others.

The White Helmets (2016)

Director: Orlando von Einsiedel

In 2011, protesters began speaking out against President Assad’s regime. Then, a full civil war broke out between the Syrian government and the anti-government rebel groups. Hundreds of thousands have died, with millions displaced. Airstrikes became a daily occurrence in areas held by rebels. The White Helmets follows a group of first responders rescuing survivors even as bombs continue to strike around them. The film won Best Documentary Short Subject at the 2017 Academy Awards.

Athlete A (2020)

Directors: Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk

In 2015, USA Gymnastics cut ties with Larry Nassar, a doctor who had worked as the national medical coordinator for the organization since 1996. The next year, The Indianapolis Star broke the story that he had been accused of sexual abuse by former gymnasts. Accusations started piling up, revealing how USA Gymnastics and others had failed to protect the young women. Athlete A follows the team of reporters who uncovered the story.

Reversing Roe (2018)

Directors: Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg

The debate over abortion and reproductive rights is one of the most controversial topics in the United States. In this documentary, viewers learn about the history of this debate, including the landmark case Roe v. Wade (1973), which ruled that the Constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion. The film interviews a series of politicians, experts, and activists to paint a picture of the state of abortion rights and where the debate might lead.

The Edge of Democracy (2019)

Director: Petra Costa

This award-winning Brazilian film seeks to explain what led to the election of Jair Bolsonaro, an event that weakened democracy in Brazil. “The Edge of Democracy” analyzes the terms of President Lula da Silva and successor President Dilma Rousseff, as well as the 2014 socio-political crisis in the country. The events are personal to filmmaker Petra Costa, who weaves in her family’s past with access to the former Presidents.

There’s Something In The Water (2019)

Elliot Page and Ian Daniel

The term “environmental racism” was coined in 1982 by Black civil rights leader Benjamin Chavis. He described it as “racial discrimination” regarding issues like environmental policies and the targeting of communities for toxic waste facilities. Something in the Water travels to the Black community outside Shelburne, Nova Scotia. There, there’s a link between contaminated well water and high rates of cancer. The film also goes to Indigenous communities in Nova Scotia negatively affected by water pollution.

Bending the Arc (2017)

Directors: Kief Davidson + Pedro Kos

In the 1980s, Paul Farmer and Jim Yong Kim met at Harvard Medical School. Motivated by their social justice goals, they teamed up with activist Ophelia Dahl and opened a clinic in rural Haiti. This documentary follows the creation of Partners in Health, a nonprofit organization that has worked on multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis in Peru and advocated for treatments like antiretroviral HIV therapy in Rwanda.

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (2015)

Director: Evgeny Afineevsky

In 2013, protesters gathered in Independence Square in Kyiv. They were protesting the Ukrainian government’s choice to align closer with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union, as opposed to the European Union. The protests soon expanded to abuse of power and the violation of human rights in the country, and in 2014, the Ukrainian revolution began. Winter on Fire explores the protests. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Platform (2019)

Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia

This brutal horror/sci-fi film from Spain tells the story of a “Vertical Self-Management Center,” a tower where residents switch levels every 30 days. There’s only so much food, and as the platform descends through the levels, people get less and less. The film’s message is that society must distribute wealth more fairly to address class warfare. It critiques systems like capitalism and emphasizes the importance of individuals pushing for change.

Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

This American-Ghanaian war film follows a child soldier in an unidentified West African country. After fleeing his village following an attack, young Agu is taken in by a rebel faction. There, he is abused and forced to perform brutal acts of violence. Beasts of No Nation is based on a 2005 book of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala, whose Harvard thesis was on child soldiers.