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A Thousand Cuts And 7 Other Interesting PBS Frontline Documentaries To Watch

Maria Ressa in A Thousand Cuts

If you are looking for a rich and diverse collection of in-depth stories about people and issues from around the world and sometimes in your own backyard, then look no further than Frontline. Since its debut in 1983, the PBS-distributed program has provided audiences with in-depth long-form stories about everything from political campaigns to the dangers facing the environment and everything in between. Recent PBS Frontline documentaries have covered titans of industry in Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos and journalists fighting for their rights and freedom in A Thousand Cuts, but that is just the beginning.

Below is a list of some of the most interesting PBS Frontline documentaries from recent years that touch on topics like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of conspiracy theories in our current political climate, and the potential dangers posed by increasingly expansive social media giants.

Maria Ressa in A Thousand Cuts

A Thousand Cuts

The 2020 Filipino-American documentary A Thousand Cuts (which made its Frontline debut in January 2021), follows the increasingly contentious and dangerous conflicts between the press and Philippine government under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte. The 90-minute documentary does a tremendous job of showing just how difficult life has become for journalists in the years since Duterte rose to power by focusing on the story Maria Ressa, the founder of online news site Rappler, as she became a target of the president’s government.

The documentary follows Maria Ressa, as well as other Rappler journalists, as she travels the world speaking about the importance of free press and basic human rights while also being subjected to government abuse (false accusations, trumped up charges, threats from government-sponsored social media groups), which paints a terrifying picture of life in a authoritarian regime. Through it all, however, Ressa remains optimistic and unwilling to back down or take the easy way out, despite getting multiple opportunities to do so.

Watch it here.

Jeff Bezos in Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos

Amazon Empire: The Rise And Reign Of Jeff Bezos

Another great recent PBS Frontline documentary is Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos, which as the title suggests, explores the history of the online retailer and how it has grown to completely change the way businesses operate in the 21st Century. The two-hour documentary touches on multiple aspects of Amazon’s story ranging from the company’s founder and his humble beginnings to the modern world’s reliance upon two-day shipping and low deals (which ultimately come with a cost).

Through interviews with Amazon employees, customers, the online retailer’s detractors, and government officials, Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos is an enlightening and sometimes frightening examination of the company that has forever changed the world in more ways than one.

Watch it here.

Alex Greninger in Coronavirus Pandemic

Coronavirus Pandemic

There are countless documentaries about the COVID-19 pandemic that have been released since the worst health crisis in modern history first brought the world to its knees in early 2020, and a large portion of those have come from Frontline. One of the most interesting of the bunch is Coronavirus Pandemic, which examines how a breakdown of communication and supply chains around the United States led to the country becoming a hotspot for the deadly virus. With segments focusing on the government’s response and others following doctors and lab technicians dealing with the fallout of a faulty testing process, this alarming documentary sheds light on the early days of the pandemic here in the States.

Watch it here.

Alex Jones in United States Of Conspiracy

United States Of Conspiracy

Long ago, conspiracy theories (like the faking of the moon landing and the assassination of JFK) didn’t get much public attention or news coverage outside of the late-night AM radio programs, but in recent years, thanks to people like Alex Jones, Roger Stone, and many others, those once harmless ideas have turned into something much more sophisticated and dangerous. This evolution of conspiracy theories into those focused on events like the September 11 terrorist attacks, Sandy Hook Massacre, and the 2020 presidential election is discussed in great detail in the Frontline documentary United States of Conspiracy.

Watch it here.

Carran Lewis in American Voices: A Nation In Turmoil

American Voices: A Nation In Turmoil

There’s now to get around it — 2020 was one of the most important (for better or for worse) years in recent memory. From the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the 2020 presidential election to the various protests in the wake of the shooting deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, we as a nation went through a lot last year. The PBS Frontline documentary American Voices: A Nation in Turmoil focuses on each of those pivotal moments in 2020 through the eyes of the different people that experienced them. With segments focused on a woman in Richmond, Virginia, finding a new normal in quarantine, a Minneapolis barber trying to improve his community, a Chicago woman battling COVID-19, and numerous others, the film provides various outlooks on the issues affecting Americans the most.

Watch it here.

A man trying to locate his wife in China Undercover

China Undercover

In the past, Frontline documentaries have made use of undercover reporters in various locations around the world, and that was also true for the 2020 report China Undercover. This 54-minute documentary follows a Uyghur man trying to locate his wife, who like millions of other members of the Muslim faith, is being held in a reeducation center, but also touches on the government’s sophisticated surveillance measures that have the power to track everyone in the country, even if they don’t know they’re being monitored or followed.

Watch it here.

The Flint Water Plant in Flint’s Deadly Water

Flint’s Deadly Water

The Flint Water Crisis has been the subject of multiple documentaries for much of the past decade, and Frontline has been there on multiple occasions to cover different aspects of one of the most troubling chapters in America’s history in the 21st Century. In 2019, the program released a documentary called Flint’s Deadly Water, which was the result of a two-year investigation into the longterm effects of the deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak caused by the ongoing crisis as well as the government officials who either attempted to cover it up or failed to act soon enough.

Watch it here.

Mark Zuckerberg in The Facebook Dilemma

The Facebook Dilemma

The final title on this list of PBS Frontline documentaries is the two-parter called The Facebook Dilemma, which goes into great detail about the rise of the popular social media service as well as the impact its meteoric growth has had on not only American society but also developing countries around the world. And just like with A Thousand Cuts, this 2018 documentary spends a great deal of time focusing on how Facebook is used to spread disinformation, influence elections, and serve as a potential threat to democracy as we know it.

Much like the 2020 Netflix documentary of a similar name, The Facebook Dilemma includes interviews with those who were with Facebook from the very beginning, critics of the service, and members of the media (including Maria Ressa) to provide a well-rounded approach to the issues at hand.

Watch it here.

These are just a few of the outstanding and eye-opening documentaries released by Frontline over the years. With hundreds of films being released in the program’s 37-year history, there is a treasure trove of stories worth checking out.

Philip Sledge

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.