5 Human Rights Documentaries to watch on Netflix
We are slowly but surely drawing closer to the holliday season, which means many of us will have some more time to spend watching documentaries as the year draws to an end. We thought to make a few early suggestions in terms of human rights films we think are worth watching – and all of them are available on Netflix. Obviously, there are many more we could suggest, but these five listed below are not only highly topical films, but also represent some of the major issues Cinéma Humain is particularly interested in as a human rights company. These topic include the connection between conservation and conflict as well as issues of gender and crimes against humanity.
As always, things become more interesting if you let us know in the comments section what you think about these films.
Here a few of our suggestions – in no particular order:
1. Saving Face (2012)
Directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Saving Face follows plastic surgeon Dr. Mohammad Jawad as he travels back to his home country, Pakistan, to reconstruct the faces of women who were attacked by acid. Such violence against women has become a regular occurrence in the country. It is estimated that more than a 100 women per annum are affected by this kind of attack. Although support is set in place, for example The Acid Survivors Foundation of Pakistan, many women do not report attacks out of fear that it would spark more violence against them. More often than not, the attacks are carried out by members of their own family, which makes addressing the issue even more complicated. After the film’s international success at the Oscars, survivors blocked the film from being shown in Pakistan, saying they did not expect the film to be so successful and that showing their faces to the world would mean disrespect for their families. The fear of more attacks was a primary concern for the survivors. Not without its controversy therefore, the film nevertheless shines a crucial light on a hugely underreported issue that deforms and destroys the lives of many women.
2. Virunga (2014)
Virunga is a documentary film that considers the implications of a UK based oil company’s attempts to extract oil in one of the oldest parks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Continued conflict within the region further complicates the development of the park, thereby also hindering the development of the quality of life of communities living in and around the protected area. Showing the human as well as the natural cost of the West’s continued attempts to extract oil from African countries, the film therefore connects conservation with many human rights issues prevalent in the region. It does so by following three distinct individuals in their attempt to protect the area from exploitation: caretaker André Bauma, park warden Emmanuel de Merode and investigative journalist Mélanie Gouby. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York to resounding praise. IndieWire writes: ‘While it has an activist purpose in common with many social issue documentaries of its ilk, “Virunga” stands out by constantly folding its unsettling content into an intimate drama that doesn’t take the high risk scenario for granted. The movie works on its own terms even as it functions as a first-rate call to action.’ Much more than a simple ‘nature’ documentary, Virunga thus relentlessly highlights the best and worst within humanity. A human rights film to its core.
3. Call Me Kuchu (2013)
Directed by Malika Zouhali-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright, Call me Kuchu investigates the struggles of the LGBT community in Uganda. A particular focus of the film falls on LGBT activist David Kato, whose murder sparked an international outcry for Uganda to change its prejudiced attitude towards its LGBT citizens. A particularly striking dimension of the film is that it focuses on the power of a single national newspaper, The Rolling Stone, to deliberately and systematically incite hatred towards members of a particular section of society. On numerous occasions it is stated that the paper even refers to LGBT people as ‘cockroaches’. By linking the use of public media, such terms as ‘cockroaches’ and systematic violence against an isolated section of society, the filmmakers disturbingly reminds viewers of the events that occurred during the Rwandan genocide. This lurking threat that hangs over the LGBT community in Uganda is therefore one that we neither can nor should ignore. Despite the horrors that the film portrays, it nevertheless illustrates, in the words of Anthony Quinn of The Independent, that the strength displayed by the gay and lesbian people in Uganda is ‘a lesson in courage, in being determined to enjoy one’s life even as the authorities threaten to take it way’.
4. The Square (2013)
The Square is an excellent example of a highly relevent film for our current climate. The film itself was updated regularly by the filmmaker, given the fact that the situation in Egypt at the time of the film’s release in 2013, was still in an developing stage. Directed by Jehane Noujaim, the film documents how the Egyptian Revolution unfolded from 2011-2013. It is an elequent grassroots level film that takes you inside the revolution in a way allowing one to understand the complexity as well as the magnitude of what occured in Tahrir Square. The Washinton Post appropriately pointed out that in addition to the aesthetic value and the structural eloquence of the film, it is also ‘infused with rough, spontaneous energy; global in its consciousness but intimate in its approach; carefully pitched but emotionally wrenching; deeply troubling but ultimately exhilarating.’ Similar to some of the other documentaries already mentioned, The Square also focuses on the stories of three men who found their way to Tahrir Square form the very beginning. First, we are introduced to Ahmed Hassan, a passionate street revolutionary and storyteller, who lyrically narrates much of the voiceovers in the film. Kahlid Abdalla, known for his acting work in The Kite Runner, United 93 and The Green Zone, leaves London to join the revolutionaries in the square. His father was an activist in the 70s and was subsequently forced into exile. Driven by this background and a renewed sense of Egyptian identity, Kahlid becomes heavily involved in the revolution. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, we meet Magdy Ashour, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was abducted and tortured by the Mubarak regime. During the course of the film, Magdy is forced to make choices between following the will of the Brotherhood and standing by the original intentions of the revolution.
5. The E-Team (2014)
The E-Team is a highly involving film, taking us behind the scenes of the work Human Rights Watch does in areas engulfed in conflict. From our contemporary perspective this film is particularly interesting, given the fact that one of its two narrative strands follows Anna Neistat and Ole Solvang into Syria – just as the conflict was erupting in 2011. To watch the film with the contemporary refugee crisis as a point of reference, is simultaneously to cement it as a valuable contribution to understanding the evolution of the problems in the region as well as the human reasons for the 2015 surge of refugees into Europe. In this regard, the film’s study of the conflict’s connection to attitudes in Russia provides the viewer with additional insight. The second strand of the film follows E-Team members, Fred Abrahams and Peter Bouchaert, as they start investigating war crimes in Libya. All in all, The E-Team provides the viewer with a behind-the-scenes look into what exactly Human Rights Watch does to expose and prevent crimes against humanity. As Ann Hornaday notes, this engaging film is ‘exciting, absorbing and stubbornly optimistic in the face of overwhelming devastation [and will] with any luck, shed deserved light on the routine sacrifices these activists and professionals make for the sake of human values.’ However, much more than simply drawing attention to the ‘routine sacrifices’ of a group of activists, the film predominantly extends a thoughtful look into the nature and injustice of conflict.