10 Smart Documentaries about Women’s Politics


A powerful still from India’s Daughter, a documentary about rape culture in India.

AT ANY GIVEN TIME, in any group of people, I’m the person who says, “Hey, have you seen that new documentary?” Of course, hardly anyone ever has, because people assume documentaries are boring and hardly ever bother with them. But, like so many things, the documentary has come a long, long way since the days of quiet nature videos with drawling narrations.

It isn’t a snazzy new look, but the diversity in storytelling is what makes the factual-film genre so compelling. Check the Documentary category of your favorite streaming service, and you’ll find plenty of great films about marginalized communities. Sure, Hollywood might churn out movies with white male heroes, but documentary filmmakers have the freedom to zero in on the unswept corners of the world.

That’s not to discount the documentary’s ability to relay important information in an easy-to-digest format, however. Whether you want to learn more about the history of filmmaking, or you’re just interested in getting to know the CEO of a quirky company, there’s a documentary out there to help you.

If you need to brush up on your knowledge of women’s politics around the world, the 10 documentaries on this list are a great place to start. The films detailed below offer rare glimpses into political issues large and small: from the lives of octogenarian fashionistas in New York City, to the reasons women turn to prostitution around the world.

A still from Hassaj's vibrant and inspiring documentary.

A still from Hassaj’s vibrant and inspiring documentary.

A Day in the Life of Karima: A Henna Girl

Catch a glimpse of the trailer for this film, and you’ll be hooked. Veiled, punk-rock-looking girls ride motorbikes down crowded city streets to get to their market booths each day. A Day in the Life of Karima: A Henna Girl will challenge your misconceptions about the lives of young Muslim women.

Miss Representation

If you ever find yourself wondering what the big deal is, exactly, with those sexy burger joint commercials, Miss Representation should be at the top of your watchlist. This excellent documentary offers strategies for identifying and combating media sexism, as well as glimpses of media awareness courses for teens and tweens.


Dark Girls

This documentary on colorism will shock white viewers who aren’t aware that skin color-based discrimination is a pervasive problem in the U.S. Shocking or not, this one is a must-watch for women of all races and ethnicities.

The Invisible War

By now, you’ve no doubt heard of the rape epidemic facing women in the military. If you want to stop the gender-based violence, but are unclear on which factors allow this epidemic to function and continue, take the time to watch The Invisible War.

Whore’s Glory

In the U.S., we have a lot of stereotypes about sex workers. Whore’s Glory challenges them all. This documentary follows women in three countries — Thailand, Bangladesh, and Mexico — to show how they entered the sex trade, what their business is like, and how they plan to leave.

Busting Out

Americans have a pretty messed-up relationship with women’s breasts. In Busting Out, one woman sets out to sort her thoughts and feelings about her boobs. Along the way, she uncovers how societal ideas about breasts have shaped our understanding of those intimate and nourishing glands. Watch the trailer above for a quick peek into the hour-long documentary (NSFW).

After Tiller1377541725

When George Tiller was killed by anti-choice radicals in 2009, the doctors in his practice — which was one of the few to provide late-term abortions — spread out across the country to continue their colleague’s invaluable work. After Tiller focuses on both the OB/GYNs and their patients to show what conditions drive a woman to seek the ultra-rare late-term abortion.

Meet the Fokkens

In countries that criminalize sex work, the Netherlands is often held up as a shining example of how well legalized prostitution works. Some continue to have reservations about the system, however. As Meet the Fokkens shows, it isn’t perfect. Check out this documentary about a set of senior twins for an unflinching look at how women in progressive countries begin working in red light districts.

India’s Daughter

In 2012, Jyoti Singh was returning home from the movies when she was brutally raped by a gang of fellow bus passengers, who dumped her at a hospital. Singh died as the result of her injuries, and the men who attacked her were convicted. However, with prosecutors and defendants insisting that she deserved rape — or even death — the case exposed just how dangerous India’s rape culture is. India’s Daughter documents the crime and its aftermath.


Advanced Style

I know that fashion won’t immediately strike most people as being a political issue, but trust me: it absolutely is. We’re always talking about dress codes, whether we’re looking up what to wear to a wedding or feeling outraged about a girl’s suspension from school. Advanced Style uses fashion to explore the positions of several elderly women known in New York City for their quirky costumes.