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See Life Through a Different Set of Eyes with These Fascinating Docs
Before We Get Started
I just wanted to give you a brief rundown of the goal of this list before we jump right in. I’ve always been a fan of documentaries. As a child, I used to rent VHS tapes (insert outdated tech joke here) from my local library. There was one I used to rent almost every time I went. It was a doc all about Jack the Ripper. It was made for kids and teens, so it wasn’t overly graphic, but the enactments made me feel as if I was on the dark and grimy street corners with the killer and his victims.
That’s what an excellent documentary is supposed to do. Put you in a different and often uncomfortable place to help you see how other people live or the struggles that folks have gone through. It enables you to realize that the world is more than the city you live in or your experiences. Documentaries are much like the stories our ancestors told each other while sitting around a fire. Only now, they are more in-depth, heavily researched, and showcase some incredible cinematography.
I have compiled a list of eight of my favorite documentaries and docuseries on Showtime. I must admit that Everything’s Going to be All White is my favorite on this list, as it invoked the most feelings and raw emotions out of me. There are some brilliant films you will be reading about, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did writing about them.
How I Choose These Documentaries
Before we get to the reason you’re here today, let’s take a look at what makes an excellent documentary and what I was looking for when it came time to select ten films to let you know about.
Creating an Experience for the Viewer
Hundreds of thousands of documentaries can be watched, so the filmmakers have to offer you an experience that is fresh and authentic and provides you with a strong theme to keep you engaged.
Learning Something New
For many students, documentaries were a part of school life. They may not have been the most interesting or had a robust budget, but they taught you something. As adults, we watch docs to not only be entertained but to learn something as well.
Learning is a vital component of a great documentary, but it defeats the whole purpose if the film isn’t holding your attention. Talented documentarians can seamlessly intertwine both, so you learn while staying engaged.
Do you have a friend who is terrible at telling a story? Well, imagine sitting through 90 minutes of that. A great storyteller can provide their audience with a clear path from beginning to end without falling into the ditch of absurdity or redundancy.
It’s one thing to deeply research a topic and make a film about it. But to really take us on a journey, a film’s creator needs to provide the viewer with spoken or transcribed words from the people who experienced what the focus of the doc is about. It adds credibility and authenticity to any film.
There is no shortage of things to watch these days, so a documentary needs to offer a sense of importance. You NEED to watch this thing right now and learn all about it because it matters. Typically, a well-done documentary will be rich in drama and make you feel like you’re missing out on something if you don’t watch it.
Again, there are millions of titles to put your eyes on. What makes this thing stick out from the others? Even a short trailer for the film should offer you something you’ve never seen, heard, or experienced. It has to stand out and tell its viewers a story in a way they’ve never been told before.
Doesn’t Push a View or Narrative
A documentary’s job is not to sway your opinion on a topic or change how you feel about something. If it does, it should be because the viewer has decided to change their point of view based on the evidence they’ve seen. But the film’s goal should never be to tell you how to think or feel.
You Can Feel the Passion that went into It
Documentaries can take months, years, or even decades to complete. You should be able to feel the filmmaker’s passion throughout the film. Not just at the beginning but throughout the film. If they don’t care about the subject matter, then why should the viewer?
It’s Honest and Empathetic
Last but far from least is that a strongly-constructed doc has to be filmed in an honest and empathetic way. The filmmaker needs to be sympathetic to the subject matter or the struggles of the people they are filming, and this should be able to be felt through the screen.
Must-Watch Documentaries on Showtime
We Need to Talk About Cosby
Similar to film, an excellent documentary is supposed to make you feel something. Whether joy, anger, disgust, or love, the filmmakers’ goal should be to summon some emotion out of you, no matter how dark the subject. That is why I’m going to get one of the more uncomfortable films on this list out of the way first.
If you were a kid in the 1980s, there is a good chance you were a fan of the beloved family comedy series, The Cosby Show. Written by Cosby himself, the show was unique in its depiction of a black family where both parents were doctors and didn’t feature any of the ignorant stereotypes that were still prominent back then. It was funny, heartwarming, and amusing, and if you didn’t have a dad in your life or one who wasn’t around much, Bill Cosby became your surrogate father.
Then the rumors started to spread in the 2000s, although there were some whispers decades before. Cosby himself had written and discussed creepy ideologies involving Spanish flies and having women under your control. Well, in writer/director W. Kamau Bell’s We Need to Talk About Cosby, we get to hear from his victims, other comedians, and journalists who all paint a picture of what Bill Cosby is and not the lovable character he played on TV or the wholesome persona he built over his six-plus decades of fame.
Wu-Tang: Of Mics and Men
Now, this is a docuseries, but this is a must-watch for fans of old-school and new-school hip hop. If you’re pursuing a career in rap/hip hop or have loved the genre for years, understanding Wu-Tang and what they have done for this style of music is vital. I have been in love with the Wu since I first heard Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) when I was 13 years old. I got their logo tattooed on me a few years ago out of respect for one of the greatest groups of musicians to ever grace the stage and studio.
In Wu-Tang: Of Mics and Men, we get a deep and intimate look into the group as a whole and all the pieces that made it work. Featuring never before seen performances and group footage, interviews are conducted with all living members to discuss the ups, downs, and every in-between of their 30-plus-year career. Wu-tang did something nobody thought would work and were able to put aside their differences and past beef to form a musical army that is still yet to be defeated all of these years later.
Everything’s Gonna Be All White
I have to be fully transparent with you. Some documentaries cause such a reaction in me that I will have to turn them off and finish them later. It’s knowing my state of mind and not wanting to overload myself with too many emotions. Everything’s Gonna Be All White is a prime example of this. If you’re not a prejudiced person, and I hope you’re not.
This documentary should invoke strong feelings in you because of the systemic racism still flowing through some parts of the world. It can be almost unbearable knowing that almost nothing has changed since Martin Luther King and the race riots of the 1960s.
Everything’s Gonna Be All White dives in headfirst to a topic that is just as sad as it is important. It features the stories of America’s past and present racism told by people who have experienced hatred and bigotry. The film doesn’t shy away from showcasing stories where discrimination, exploitation, and racism are the main characters and how these actions have assisted in the formulation of the country. The doc does employ the strategic move of intertwining humor into it, so it’s not a complete negative-thought spiral.
The Real Charlie Chaplin
Fame, talent, scandal, abundance, these themes, and more are all covered in this incredible portrait of the life of one of the biggest stars to ever grace the screen, Charlie Chaplin. To understand where our fascination with celebrities came from, we need to look back at films of the old days.
Movies stated being silent before music was added in. Once characters were able to speak on screen, the whole game changed. Chaplin was there for all these monumental moments in cinema and became a worldwide star. Like most celebrities, he had his Hollywood persona and private life. Very little is known about the man when the camera wasn’t rolling until now.
The Real Charlie Chaplin paints the clearest picture of what Chaplin was like through the use of never-before-heard recordings, private home movies, and newly restored clips from his films to help fans of the legendary actor better understand what made the comedic genius tick.
I remember my mom taking me to see Chaplin’s 1925 film, The Gold Rush, in a little theatre when I was just a kid. Even as a child, I knew there was something special about this man with the mustache and hat who was doing silly things. This doc is a must-watch if you’re a fan of Chaplin or cinema.
The ultra-talented JJ Abrams brings us a fresh take on why we are so drawn to the stars and universe and what just may be out there. Humans are naturally curious creatures, and as long as we have been on this planet, we have looked up to the skies and questioned if we are alone or are there other life forms out in the dark realm of space.
UFO is a four-episode docuseries that intertwines the reasoning for humans’ fascination with outer space and the role that governments have played in downplaying or straight up ignoring facts and real-life experiences of thousands of people who have seen what they believe to be other life forms.
This film goes beyond the often-overdone alien documentary that throws a lot of theories at the audience without much reasoning as to why we are so enthralled with aliens and how as with many things on earth, how some folks want to use the truth for their agendas.
Ever since Unsolved Mysteries first aired in the late 1980s, I’ve been deeply interested in aliens and the unknowns of space, but this is the first doc that doesn’t feel like it’s something that would be shown to students by a science teacher in June who has completely checked out.
Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John Mcafee
A large part of why we watch documentaries is to see the world through another person’s eyes. It’s getting out of our comfort zone to see how others live. In Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John Mcafee, we get a glimpse into the lives of one of the most exciting and bizarre humans to ever grace this earth.
John McAfee is a strange dude, and his life seems like something out of a bad Clive Cussler book. After making millions creating antivirus software, McAfee put on several different hats. He was a yogi, a pusher of herbal remedies, and an entrepreneur whose ambitions knew no bounds. But after moving from the U.S. to Belize, McAfee built himself a heavily armed and guarded compound. He became a media darling and was never afraid to show off his wealth, lifestyle, and barrage of eerily young women.
Award-nominated filmmaker Nanette Burstein delves past the man’s money and charm to learn more about all of the shadowy dealings and actions that McAfee has been a part of. If you’re like me, you love a good story, and Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John Mcafee offers that and a whole lot more.
Burn Motherf*cker, Burn!
Few things in this world make my blood boil more than racism, and how advanced we are as a society and race is still an issue is sickening. On April 29, 1992, when four white police offers were acquitted of beating Rodney King, riots took place, and the city of Los Angeles exploded. This was the boiling-over point that resulted from decades of civil rights abuse and blatant disrespect that the LAPD showed to the black community.
This documentary will and should make you angry. This event was thirty years ago, and as a society, we are still experiencing many of the same race-related issues. Burn Motherf*cker, Burn! Is such an important film, as we cannot get any better as humans if we don’t look into ourselves in the darkest parts of our nature and try to find some decency and respect for all people.
Let’s end this list on more of a positive note. The Go-Go’s aren’t just one of the most influential female groups of all time. They’re one of the greatest bands ever to grace a stage. They sold many records, played in sold-out arenas, and created a unique sound while doing it their way.
The Go-Go’s is a more informative doc that follows a simple structure but is incredibly fascinating and lets you into the backstage area that very few have seen. The band infused elements of punk, new-wave, and pop in a way that hadn’t been done before, and oh yeah, they did it in an industry ruled by men.
The Go-Go’s fought through drug abuse, internal conflicts, and folks putting them down at every corner to sell over seven million albums and become known as one of the most successful female bands of all time.
Even if you think you don’t know The Go-Gos, I’m here to tell you that you probably do. Their music has been featured in various movies, including Spider-Man: Far from Home, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, and my personal favorite, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Question: Does Showtime have any good documentaries?
Answer: Yes, Showtime is home to some incredible documentaries, such as Wu-Tang: Of Mics and Men, We Need to Talk About Cosby, and The Real Charlie Chaplin.
Question: Is Showtime worth the money?
Answer: It depends on your viewing habits, but Showtime has an extensive list of movies, television shows, and documentaries. Plus, its monthly cost is comparable with streaming sites.
Question: Is Showtime any good?
Answer: Showtime often gets a bad reputation, but over the last several years, they have stepped up their title selection and quality. There is a healthy mix of well-known and lesser-known movies and series and some fantastic documentaries.
Well, there you have a few documentaries to get you thinking and feeling while also entertaining. Although Everything’s Gonna Be All White is my personal favorite on this list, all of these films offer viewers an experience to see the world in a completely different light. Although what you see might make you angry or sad, you will be better off for knowing a little more about what this world is really like.