There are multiple ways to celebrate Women’s History Month and the achievements and milestones of some of history’s loudest and proudest voices, whether it be reading about trailblazers or watching great movies highlighting their lives. Another way, one that will hopefully shed light on some of those voices, is to watch great documentaries that focus on everyone from the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Jane Goodall, as well as some lesser known movements like that of a group of Minnesota bank tellers who made a stand for equal rights and equal pay.
Below is a collection of those documentaries and information on what they’re about and where you can watch them. They’re moving, empowering, and enlightening in their approach to their respective subjects. Let’s get started…
Throughout her life, late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was portrayed by the likes of Felicity Jones and Kate McKinnon on Saturday Night Live, but one of the most fascinating portraits of the American trailblazer was the 2018 Academy Award-nominated documentary RBG, which was released a couple of years before her passing. Through interviews with RBG herself and those she inspired throughout her life and career, Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s eye-opening documentary paints the full picture, showing how much of an impact she had on the country.
This loving, charming, and touching documentary also dives into the Notorious RBG persona that turned Ginsburg into an international celebrity in the final years of her life, and is an excellent way of introducing younger audiences to her legacy.
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
To some, Hedy Lamarr will forever be known as one of the most beautiful and talented actresses in the Golden Age of Hollywood, while others see her as one of the inventors of one of the most widely used technologies today. Well, Alexander Dean’s 2017 documentary, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, touches on both sides of the screen legend’s life: the one in front of the camera that saw her appear in Samson and Delilah, Lady of the Tropics, and more, as well as her more scientific side, which saw her invent the technology that would later be used in Bluetooth and GPS years later.
Over the course of this 90-minute documentary feature, Lamarr’s entire life is put on display, from her upbringing in Austria to her decision to leave everything she knew behind to start a new life in Paris before becoming a Hollywood legend.
What Happened, Miss Simone?
One of the loudest and proudest voices of her time, Nina Simone was a titan of the music industry who refused to back down from a fight and stood up for what she believed was right. The 2015 Netflix documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? explores Simone’s life and legacy through a combination of interviews and archival footage (some of which had never been seen prior to the film’s release).
Liz Garbus’ enlightening documentary, which won a Primetime Emmy Award and a Peabody Award upon its release, also dives into how the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s led to Simone making major changes in her music, and her outlook on life, becoming one of the movement’s biggest supporters and loudest voices in the process.
He Named Me Malala
Around 10 years ago, the story of Malala Yousafzai both shocked and inspired people around the world after the young activist was shot and nearly killed by Taliban militants for speaking up about equal rights for young girls in her native Pakistan. Not silenced by the attack, Yousafzai, still a teenager at the time, became an international sign of hope for her tireless crusade to fight for education rights that ended up earning her a Nobel Peace Prize
The 2015 documentary, He Named Me Malala, dives into her remarkable life, civil rights work, and how she has inspired countless other young girls to speak up against the injustices of the world and to never back down from a fight.
Everything Is Copy — Nora Ephron: Scripted And Unscripted
More times that not, when Nora Ephron’s name comes up, people think of When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and other great romantic comedies she wrote or directed over the years. Ephron, who passed away in 2012, did in fact give the world some of the most timeless romance stories of the past 40 years, but that’s only one part of her life.
The 2015 HBO documentary Everything Is Copy — Nora Ephron: Scripted and Unscripted touches on nearly every aspect of the late writer’s life and career from her days as low-level Newsweek employee to one of the most unique voices of her time, first in the newspaper industry and later on in Hollywood. Like her movies, Jacob Bernstein and Nick Hooker’s portrait of the artist is funny, poignant, and charming as all hell.
In 2018, former First Lady Michelle Obama released the successful memoir, Becoming, which talked about her experiences in life (before and after spending eight years in the White House) and her philosophies on life, creating an amazingly detailed exploration of what makes her tick. Two years later, a documentary of the same name was released by Netflix that both tackles the bigger points of the book while also expanding upon Obama’s way of thinking.
Directed by Nadia Hallgren, Becoming takes the viewer on a rich and robust ride that shows an emotional, raw, and strong former First Lady as she shares her side of the story regarding her husband’s, former President Barack Obama, rise to the top of the political world and how it shaped their shared life experiences.
The Willmar 8
In December 1977, eight tellers and bookkeepers at the Citizens National Bank in Willmar, Minnesota, went on strike to protest sex discrimination they had been subjected to by not receiving equal pay and being denied opportunities for advancement. Over the course of two years, the group braved the elements (in subzero temperatures in the Minnesota winter) and a lack of support from their community, but continued to picket in front of their employer, refusing to back down.
The story of those fearless bank employees was shared in great detail in Lee Grant’s 1981 documentary, The Willmar 8, which offers insight into the protest, how the women carried it out, and the response from those in their community and elsewhere. And, though they lack the name recognition of other subjects on this list, the Willmar 8 is a group that should be remembered.
A Thousand Cuts
One of the best PBS Frontline documentaries, A Thousand Cuts tells the story of Maria Ressa, the founder of online news outlet Rappler, who came under fire from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for covering his government’s corruption and proliferation of misinformation on social media outlets like Facebook.
Released prior to Ressa being award the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021, Ramona S. Diaz’s movie paints a portrait of a woman who refuses to back down even when her career, legacy, and life are on the line. Over the course of the 99-minute documentary, Ressa and the journalists under her wing are forced to face difficult situations and rise to the occasion as they attempt to prevent their voices from being silenced.
Chisholm ’72: Unbought And Unbossed
Shirley Chisholm made history in 1968 when she became the first Black woman to be elected to the United States Congress, serving in New York’s 12th district for a total of seven terms between 1969 and 1983. Chisholm made history again in 1972 when she announced plans to run for the President of the United States, becoming not only the first woman to seek the Democratic nomination but also the first African American politician to do so.
That story is told in great detail in the 2004 documentary, Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed. This eye-opening exploration of Chisholm’s historic campaign, as well as her legacy from decades in public service, is stunning in every way possible and sheds more light on one of the country’s most empowering figures.
For more than half-a-century Jane Goodall’s name has become synonymous with conservancy, due to her never-ending service to the world’s animals, specifically primates. There have been countless documentaries and specials about Goodall over the years, but few compare in terms of scope and intimacy as Brett Morgan’s stunning nature documentary, JANE, which draws from 100 hours of never-before-seen footage from her life and research.
Through the images and home movies, a side of the iconic naturalist that is rarely shown is on full display, which adds so much more to Goodall’s story and legacy as one of the most dedicated servants of the natural world we’ve ever seen.
Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt And Anderson Cooper
The late Gloria Vanderbilt was an accomplished fashion designer, writer, and heiress whose life had multiple ups and downs, victories and defeats, and amazing stories throughout. Those stories are shared in great detail in the 2016 HBO documentary Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper, which features extensive interviews between the prominent figure and her son, one of the faces of CNN.
As the name suggests, nothing is left unsaid and nothing is held back during the mother-son duo’s conversations. If anything, these talks show a different side of both icons of their respective industries and also the tale of one of the country’s most notable and successful families.
Hopefully you get as much out of these documentaries as we did. If you want to know what other great documentaries are coming to your favorite streaming services, check CinemaBlend's 2022 TV schedule so you don't miss a thing.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
Your Daily Blend of Entertainment News
Thank you for signing up to CinemaBlend. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.