Top Ten Documentaries on Social Justice and Art

July 28, 2023

"The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play." - Arnold J. Toynbee, British historian.


The glitz and glamour of the Hollywood silver screen often obscure the complex, and sometimes harsh realities, that live beneath its sparkling facade. The film industry is a microcosm of the broader societal issues that have commanded global attention over the past few years: systemic inequality, lack of representation, and the urgent need for social justice reform. The art industry, particularly Hollywood, has been the stage of numerous strikes, walkouts, and protests against these oppressive conditions. Yet it's in the very heart of this turbulent storm that some of the most potent instruments of enlightenment and change have emerged: documentaries and docuseries.


From the 2007-2008 Writer's Guild of America strike to the recent 2023 protests led by the underrepresented communities in Hollywood, the film industry has been fraught with conflict. These upheavals reflect the broader fight for equity and inclusion that's resonating worldwide. Yet, the telling of these stories often gets relegated to the margins, particularly when the focus turns to minorities who have historically lacked a significant platform. But the tide is turning. Streaming platforms like Netflix, Showtime, and Youtube are making waves with their commitment to showcasing documentaries and docuseries that delve into these critical issues, opening up a digital space for discussions on social justice in the art industry.


Behind the Silver Screen: How Film and Docuseries Illuminate the Fight for Equality


workers in a cloth factory


These docuseries and documentaries do more than just recount the trials and tribulations of those fighting for social justice in the art industry. They offer a unique vantage point into the complexities and nuances of these struggles, enabling viewers to engage more deeply with the realities of these issues. In the process, they challenge the traditional narratives, prompting us to question the dynamics of power and privilege in our societies. It's not just about recounting history; it's about catalyzing change and transforming perceptions.


Ten Unflinching Documentaries and Docuseries on Labor and Social Justice:



Woman's Work

In this strikingly original short film, a tenacious female freelance journalist revisits her experiences reporting from the front lines of war. Two years after her gritty encounters, she employs a riveting blend of animation, live-action, and potent textual narrative to delve deep into pressing issues such as gender disparities, humanity's capacity for self-destruction, and the indomitable spirit needed to live beyond the grasp of fear.



a woman with curly hair and glasses in a meditation position

Ava DuVernay's "13th" challenges the US constitution's 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery except as a punishment for crime. This powerful documentary exposes the ways in which racial inequalities persist in the American criminal justice system.



an activist raises his voice

In the heart of a nation teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and a maritime company's financial collapse, TIED presents the harrowing battle of 320 seamen left unpaid for months. Amidst the darkest chapter of Greece's contemporary history, the camera poignantly captures the futile efforts of Lesvos Shipping Company's workers, trapped on their vessels, hidden from public view and desperate for their dues. TIED unearths an overlooked modern labor struggle, resonating from the dockyards of Drapetsona in Piraeus to the austere corridors of the Prime Minister's office in downtown Athens. It's a sobering portrait of resilience amidst dire economic crisis, revealing the hidden toll of corporate collapse on its most vulnerable victims - the workers.



women artists

An unprecedented examination of transgender depictions in film and television, "Disclosure" uncovers the profound impact of Hollywood's portrayals on the transgender community's experiences.


Factory Complextwo masked figures kiss

The world's promising artist and director, Heung-soon Im, who attracted attention with his previous documentary film "Jeju Prayer", won the Silver Lion in the 56th Venezia Biennale Arte with this documentary. Through the innovative style of shuttling between the interviews of actual female laborers and experimental images, "Factory Complex" unravels stories of “all the workers” in this generation where work is a happiness and also fear, by tracking their past and present, inner side and the environment.


Hollywood's Architect: The Paul R. Williams Story

a white-haired man shows a blueprint

This film tells the story of Paul R. Williams, a trailblazing African American architect who persevered in the face of racial discrimination to design iconic Hollywood homes and public buildings.


Big Boys Gone Bananas!*

a bunch of bananas broadcast on a tv

In 2009, Swedish director Fredrik Gertten's documentary "Bananas!"— which spotlights Nicaraguan banana workers' lawsuit against Dole Food Co for using prohibited pesticides — was poised for its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival. However, the agricultural giant employed a range of tactics to prevent American viewers from seeing the film. "Big Boys Gone Bananas" documents Gertten's ensuing struggle for freedom of expression as he and his producer confront Dole's discrediting campaign and distribution blockage by launching a lawsuit, a landmark case in the annals of legal history. Unfolding as a behind-the-scenes docu-drama, the film interweaves scenes from the production company's offices, videoconferences between Stockholm and Los Angeles, expert interviews, and the strategic maneuvers deployed in Gertten's hard-fought battle to bring his documentary to a global audience.



many tools

In Argentina, during 2015, productivity in the textile sector dropped to 40%. In 2016 it dropped to 60%. Since the change of government occurred in 2015, 6,000 worker cooperatives have been deregistered nationwide. C.I.T.A recounts the resistance and fighting spirit of a group of workers to continue operating cooperatively fighting against the different neoliberal policies that threaten Argentina's national industry.


Visible: Out on Television

on a stage a boy sings in a green suitA docuseries that explores the complex evolution of LGBTQ+ representation on television, "Visible: Out on Television" reveals the power of the small screen in shaping societal attitudes and acceptance.


The Take

workers with yellow helmets

Directed by Avi Lewis and written by Naomi Klein, is a riveting documentary that dives into the heart of Argentina's worker-run factories. When Argentina's economy collapses, leaving thousands unemployed, workers take control of their idle factories and run them themselves, posing a radical challenge to the capitalist system. This doc film gives an intimate look at the struggle of these workers, defying the conventional wisdom that says workers can't run a factory without bosses.


As we venture further into the 21st century, the fight for social justice and the role of the art industry in that struggle becomes increasingly pertinent. Documentaries and docuseries provide an essential platform for these discussions, opening our eyes to the lived realities of those fighting for representation, equality, and change. By tuning into these films and shows, we take part in a broader conversation about social justice, lending our voices and attention to those who've been long unheard. And as we watch online and consider where to view next, let us not forget the power of our choices, for the docs we choose reflect the world we wish to see. After all, the power to change the industry—and society—rests not just with those in front of the camera, but also those behind the screen.


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