Seven must-see human rights documentaries on Netflix

Don’t leave your Netflix account to grow old and dusty – there are plenty of opportunities for an informative evening of entertainment. 

We've picked seven unmissable human rights related films and documentaries to get stuck into.

1. Call Me Kuchu

When Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall started making this documentary about David Kato, Uganda's first openly gay man, they were struck by the disconnect between the media's portrayal of of the LGBTI community in Uganda, and their direct experiences speaking to 'kuchus'.

Most of the LGBTI individuals they met were dedicated, joyous activists, despite the dangers they faced. The film manages to be both harrowing and uplifting as you follow both the activists and the anti-gay campaigns rife in Uganda.

Since Call Me Kuchu was released, the harsh Anti-Homosexuality Bill was passed in 2013, and then declared null and void by Uganda's constituional court in Decmber last year. Homosexuality is still illegal in 40 African countries, including Uganda.

2. The Farm: Angola, USA

Focusing on six detainees at America’s largest maximum security prison, Louisiana State Penitentiary, ‘The Farm: Angola, USA’ met rave reviews on its release in 1998 and co-won the Documentary Grand Jury award at the Sundance Film Festival the same year.

Filmmakers Jonathan Stack and Liz Garbus spent a year documenting life inside the prison, but particular stories highlight ongoing human rights abuses. Of particular note is the portrait of long-term death row inmate John Brown, who was executed a year before the film’s release. 

And injustices still abound: Louisiana State Penitentiary is the target of our action for Albert Woodfox, who has been in solitary confinement there for 43 years. 

3. 5 Broken Cameras

This 2012 documentary about life in a Palestinian village on the West Bank is told from the perspective of father-of-four Emad, who initially bought his first camera for shooting home movies.

As time goes on, we see the inevitability of political influence over personal life, as Emad’s portraits of his neighbours metamorphose into documentation of the encroachment of Israeli troops onto the land around his village and an arson attack on Palestinian olive groves.

Writing in the Observer, critic Philip French says of the film: “It presents with overwhelming power a case of injustice on a massive scale, and gives us a direct experience of what it's like to be on the receiving end of oppression and dispossession.”

4. The E-Team

Judging from Syria’s ongoing human rights atrocities and a resurgence of terror in Libya, ‘The E-Team’ is perhaps the most timely of Netflix’s offerings. The film follows four members of the Human Rights Watch Emergency Team – including Dr Anna Neistat, who is now Amnesty's senior research director – as they investigate human rights abuses in both countries following the 2011 uprisings.

As well as documenting the aftermath of Assad’s cluster bombs and showing the mass graves and charred bodies of Libya’s dead, the film tells very human stories of ordinary people living in constant terror.

Entertainment magazine Variety praised ‘The E-Team’ for its “sharp storytelling, death-defying videography and engrossing protagonists.”

5. Camp 14: Total Control Zone

Because of the deadly secrecy of the North Korean regime, not much is known about its labour camps, where an estimated 200,000 political prisoners and their families are incarcerated. But ‘Camp 14: Total Control Zone’ (2013) sheds a light on some of the atrocities that take place in the darkest pockets of the hermit kingdom.

Shin Dong-Huyk, who was born in such a camp, escaped to South Korea at the age of 23. Wiese tells his story through interviews and animated sequences, including the particularly gruelling experience of informing on his mother and brother – and seeing them executed as a result.

The result is a gruelling documentary which serves as an insight into a country Amnesty International UK describes as being “in a category of its own when it comes to human rights violations”.

6. West of Memphis

This 2012 documentary follows the nailbiting case of the West Memphis Three, in which three teenage boys were convicted of murdering three 8-year-old children and imprisoned for 18 years.

The case – also portrayed in Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s three Paradise Lost films – isn’t new to the screen, but ‘West of Memphis’ specifically focuses on Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the victims, physical evidence linking him to the murders, and, in particular, how the police failed to interview him at the time of the murders.

Observer critic Philip French said: “The movie is both a shocking indictment of the American criminal justice system and a tribute to the dedication of selfless civil rights lawyers and their supporters from all over the world.”

The West Memphis Three have now been released.

7. The Thin Blue Line

Errol Morris' 1988 masterpiece focuses on the story of Randall Adams, serving a life sentence (for three years it had been execution, but this was commuted to life) in Texas for the murder of a policeman in 1976.

Adams has already spent more than a decade in prison by the time Morris interviews him. The film is a forensic look at the crime that put Adams - who claims his innocence throughout - behind bars, as Morris meticulously pieces together the crime scene with unblinking interviews and reconstructed footage, presenting events through the viewpoints of numerous players.

Morris' investigation and the film's subsequent exposure of police failings, untrustworthy witnesses and a flawed justice system resulted in Adams being retried, where he was found innocent.

This film is a trailblazer in both style and content, and so many well-known documentaries owe a lot to it. The Thin Blue Line often appears at the top of 'films you must watch'/'best documentaries of all time' lists - with good reason.

And one bonus on iPlayer: Panorama - Fighting Terror With Torture

How far should we go in the fight against terrorism?

Panorama looks at many of the CIA's 'enhanced interrogation techniques' - torture to you and me, and of course to President Obama - and recreates them in some very disturbing television.

Whilst the CIA has admitted that torture didn't work and was 'deeply flawed', we still don't know the full extent of the UK's involvement in the torture programme.

What else would you recommend to watch? Add your human rights films in the comments or on Twitter.

Emily Wight is a Digital Assistant at Amnesty UK.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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1 comment

The Farm documentary on life in Angola Prison is very misleading. Like any other high security prison, Angola is extremely violent.Murders, fights, stabbings,rapes, extortion etc etc. Prison is a brutal place and the documentary ,for whatever reason, chose to ignore it. Actual daily life in Angola and how the doc presents it is as different as night and day.

jim14877 10 months ago