We Love Documentaries: 5 Documentaries Relevant to Your Interests

I took some time off at the beginning of February and that presented me with plenty of documentary-watching opportunities. I REALLY LIKE DOCUMENTARIES and here’s why: documentaries put you in the middle of something you would otherwise never have the opportunity to know. The more you know about things, the better you are at being a good human. I particularly enjoy learning new things because then I have more to talk about when I drink beers with people. Also look:


Newfound knowledge via Dogs Decoded: NOVA

Obviously I owe a large chunk of my documentary watching to Netflix Instant streaming through my Wii machine. I would like to talk to you about all the documentaries I have ever loved, but that’s what personal blogs are for. Instead, let’s take a look at a selection of documentaries that I believe are relevant to the interests of at least 95% of you.

Bi The Way

[watch via Netflix Instant]

synopsis:

The iron curtain between gay and straight is crumbling. The Bible belt is unbuckled. Recent studies suggest that bisexuality is drastically more widespread than we ever thought. And for young people, dating a girl one week and a guy the next is no big deal.

Journeying through the changing sexual landscape of America, the directors of BI THE WAY investigate the latest scientific reports and social opinions on bisexuality, while following five members of the emerging “whatever generation” – teens and twenty-something who seem to be ushering in a whole new sexual revolution.

 

Bi The Way is what you watch when you’re feeling alienated or alone in your corner of the world and you need proof that other bisexuals / queer people exist and that they aren’t self-loathing mind-fucks, but really normal, adorable people just trying to be happy.

The film naturally skews pro-bisexuality or, you know, pro-common sense / open minds / YOU DO YOU, and that’s good because queers like and need validation. However, something that sort of stuck out to me was the few bigoted and ignorant comments that made it into the documentary, probably in an effort to make it appear unbiased? Maybe? To me they were totally unnecessary. Queer people know what bigots think. I don’t understand why they were given a platform in this documentary, other than to illustrate how stupid people can be (but again, we already know this).

Aside from that, eleven year-old Josh is amazing and will give you more hope for future generations than you thought possible. Also there are lots of gratuitous clips of girls making out, so.

 

Letter to the President

[watch via Netflix Instant]

synopsis:

Narrated By Snoop Dogg, Letter To the President is a feature documentary that showcases the close-knit ties between the Hip Hop Music community and America’s social and political policy in the last 30 years.

Ok honestly, they had me at ‘narrated by Snoop Dogg.’ I expected Letter to the President to be mostly about the evolution / devolution of hip hop music, but it goes way beyond that to show how the genre both affected society and mirrored it, as well as some really real talk about post-civil rights racism, government-funded modern-day slavery and how totally fucked things are in this country.

This changed the way I looked at um, everything. Basically you have to watch this.

 

Prodigal Sons

[watch via Netflix Instant]

synopsis:

In high school, Kimberly Reed was male, a straight-A student and captain of the football team. But since leaving his rural Montana hometown, he’s become a woman — and a filmmaker whose documentary could not be any more personal. Half the story involves her attending her high school reunion as a transgendered female; the other half involves reuniting with her siblings, including her estranged adopted brother.

You think Prodigal Sons will be about Kimberly and what it was like for her to return to a group of peers who’d only known her as a male, because there’s definitely enough material there to make a good documentary, but it’s also a fascinating look at family dynamics and how each person’s life experiences play out in their relationships with everyone else. I think I sat with my mouth open for at least a quarter of the movie.

 

Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives

[watch via Netflix Instant]

synopsis:

First released in 1977, this landmark documentary chronicles the experiences of some two dozen gay and lesbian Americans living throughout the country during the early days of the gay rights movement. Directed by a coalition of gay and lesbian filmmakers, the movie features interviews with poet Elsa Gidlow, activist Harry Hay and others who reflect candidly on growing up in a country that was still deeply and almost uniformly anti-gay.

If all of your aunts / uncles, grandparents and parents were gay or bisexual and they sat down with you over cucumber sandwiches and iced tea flavored bourbon to tell you what it was like to grow up and exist in the world when they were teenagers or twenty-somethings, that would be this documentary. Word is Out is the heart-to-heart talk you probably can’t get from older family members, because they’re not queer and they didn’t go through anything like this.

The strangely comforting yet mildly horrifying thing is, the stories told in Word is Out are SO FAMILIAR. Even though these people came out in the 50s / 60s / 70s, their basic experiences and feelings are still, in some ways, being recreated and re-lived today. You can see how far we’ve come as a country, but also how much ignorance and hatred stunts even the most promising progress.

The stories were sweet and sometimes really funny and always really good to hear.

 

black./womyn.: conversations with lesbians of African descent

[buy this film]

synopsis:

black./womyn.:conversations… is a feature-length documentary focusing on the lives and views of lesbians of African descent from various backgrounds. The documentary is structured by interviews-”conversations”-the director had with each of the women. It features candid interviews with black lesbian women discussing coming out, sexuality and religion, love and relationships, marriage, patriarchy, visibility in media, discrimination and homophobia, activism, gender identity, Black lesbian youth and elders, balancing gender/race/sexuality, and, finally, what it means to call oneself a Black lesbian today. black./womyn.:conversations… is a piece that provokes honest, progressive dialogue and critical thinking among people in general-and Black lesbians in particular-about how Black lesbians are viewed and affected by society. black./womyn.:conversations… features interviews with close to 50 out, Black lesbians including Poet/Author Cheryl Clarke, Filmmaker/Activist Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Poet/Author Staceyann Chin, Filmmaker Michelle Parkerson, Artist Hanifah Walidah, Hip-Hop Duo KIN, and Author Fiona Zedde.

This film encourages progressive dialogue about images of Black lesbians and the stereotypes resulting from their portrayal in media and society at large. The director hopes to create conversation among Black lesbians of differing ages, backgrounds about the lack of communication among these groups and how this affects the overall unity of Black lesbians as a group.

Saying that black./womyn features a variety of ages, gender identity / presentations and life experiences is a monumental understatement. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many aspects of queer life represented in one place before. Some of the stories are heartbreaking but so many are inspiring and eye-opening. There’s not a lot of narration, so the documentary does end up feeling like a conversation, and director / producer tiona.m. covers every topic imaginable: coming out, dating, marriage, activism, identity, ‘types’ of lesbians, etc. black./womyn was enthralling for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that I’m a white girl and have no idea what it’s like to live these experiences, so I really truly appreciated how honest and open everyone was. Telling each other our own stories is important.

“At the root of the film I wanted to make something that would have benefited my younger self in a way. I think with film/media you have a chance to transport and immortalize ‘voice’ in a sense. With ‘black./womyn.’ I wanted to present a transparent film that would do just that — transport a portion of the Black lesbian community to places where we have not had the space to share our experiences via our own voice be that in cinema or in the privacy of one’s home.”

from an interview with Black Gay Gossip

 

Have you watched any of these? Do you have feelings? This is where you get to judge my film selection and opinions, while simultaneously providing your own film selections and opinions! Oh, internet, you’re so wacky!

Avatar of Laneia Nicole

Laneia is the Executive Editor and founding member of Autostraddle, and she thinks you're fucking rad. She's 33, has two kids, two dogs, one Megan, some personal essays and a lot of emails in her inbox.

Laneia Nicole has written 345 articles for us.

58 Comments

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    yay for random facts! and documentaries!
    but I think you’re wrong about the “right side of face emotion”-thing.. my left side is far more expressive than my right. I think it has something to do which brain-hemisphere is most active, and I’m fairly right-brained. and the “right brain” controls the left side of the body.. but no matter the cause, I don’t know which side is more common, but there should be more like me out there.

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    OMG thank you so much. I’m doing a Pride Movie Night for my University and I needed to decide on a doc to show- think I’ll go with ‘Bi the Way’. Autostraddle, why are you so cool ;)

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    Yay!! The documentaries you suggest are always awesome!! But now I’m blaming you when I fail all my finals because I watched these during RRR week instead of studying, haha.

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    Thanks for watching these in advance for me!
    i’m definitely adding these to my queue. It’s so hard to figure out what to watch on netflix, this is what I need autostraddle for. I can’t wait to check them out. I love you guys so much.

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    Is anyone else a little more than mildly put off that gay & lesbian are lumped into a single, inextricable category on Netflix? I mean, queer-related interests are intertwined, but isn’t the basis of the whole ‘homosexual’ thing that you really mostly want to watch people of one gender wooing/kissing/living with/pining after/crying over someone of their same sex? I just want to advocate for a ‘lesbian’ category, really… there’s a lot of 80′s boy-on-boy stuff to wade through to find Better Than Chocolate, is all I’m sayin’.

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    “I particularly enjoy learning new things because then I have more to talk about when I drink beers with people.”

    This is why I watch them too! Plus I love to learn about other people and cultures and things I wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to.

    Another source for great documentaries is http://current.com/ You can go to the website to see what channel this is on for your set up. I can watch this channel for hours in the middle of the night and never get bored. They have a little something for everyone! Enjoy

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    I watched Word is Out last month! Has anyone seen the DVD extras? Which of them ended up dying from complications related to AIDS?

    The documentaries Before Stonewall and After Stonewall are expiring in a few days so get on that if you wanted to see those.

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        Even if someone had mentioned the names, it’s likely that you wouldn’t put 2+2 together during the film. It’s hard to put names to faces when there are 26 people being interviewed. I still couldn’t tell you who everyone is.

        Anyway, it should be obvious that many of these people are dead now considering that a) this was filmed before the AIDS epidemic b) several of these people were fairly old when the documentary was being filmed. Is it a spoiler or just common sense if I say that Elsa Gidlow – born in 1898 – is dead?

        Speaking of spoilers – if anyone is going to watch Dear Zachary, don’t read too much about it!

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          I kind of wish I hadn’t ever watched Dear Zachary…it was a great movie but it really ripped my heart out. Be prepared to feel lots of really unpleasant emotions if you’re going to watch it.

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    There is this awesome documentary called Paris is Burning. It’s pretty old but it’s amazing how relevant it still is. I think it’s definitely worth looking into.

    Also docs that are fantastic that aren’t necessarily relevant but still awesome and life-changing:

    The Gleaners and I. Agnes Varta (who also has an awesome documentary on the Black Panthers)

    Waste Land. I can’t remember the filmmaker but she’s amazing

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    I did really like Dogs Decoded, so. Can you believe that dog that could pick out items from pictures?

    Or maybe that was a different documentary about dogs?

    Either way, I will pause the documentaries about the national parks system and move to these.

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    i saw that dog documentary too! i think it was on pbs. in that one or another one there was also a dog who could recognize 1000+ individual stuffed animals by name.

    i now constantly think about how i’m looking at the right side of people’s faces, and check to see if dogs are doing that too.

    also i have prob used that as a conversation topic at least two times so far, agreed about beer talking topics.

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    A documentary in the making right now that y’all should keep an eye out for: Face2Face, by Katherine Brooks (director of Loving Annabelle). It’s about how people have lost their interpersonal connections because of reliance on technology. Katherine is driving around the country with her camera, talking to 50 random facebook friends and making a documentary about it. facebook.com/Face2FaceMovie

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    HEEEE I am totally thrilled to see Bi the Way on here. I first saw it at the BECAUSE Conference in like 2009 I think? in an auditorium full of bisexual and allied people who cheered when the bisexuals found love and affirmation and booed and hissed when Dan Savage said dumb things and also anytime Michael Musto was on screen. And one of the directors did a Q&A afterwards, that was neat. I pre-ordered the DVD as soon as I could and then waited a million years (really like 4 months but it felt like A Long Time) to get it because they had packaging problems. Then when it finally arrived I had a bunch of friends (mostly straight allies) over for a private screening!

    I kind of recall people at that screening feeling like it wasn’t actually completely biased towards pro-bisexuality. I definitely felt the bias the first time I saw it, probably because I was surrounded by a couple hundred cheering pro-bi people and at the time being adamantly, unapologetically bi myself. Maybe I’ll watch it again and actually try to analyze it this time, instead of just reveling in the idea that someone would actually MAKE a DOCUMENTARY about BI PEOPLE.

    I thought I had heard somewhere that someone involved in the making of Bi the Way was also involved in the making of Trust Women (a documentary about late-term abortion docs that’s still in progress). But maybe I made that up because I can find no proof of it now? Anyway, that’s another doc I’m super psyched about.

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    I watched Bi the Way holed up in my bedroom two years ago when no one was looking. I had just met this girl and my straight identity had flown out the window, leaving this gaping hole in my sense of self which I could only temporarily replace with making out. Cue lots of late-night Kinsey scale research on Wikipedia and the checking out of a great many lesbian classics from the public library. And Bi the Way, which will retain a fond place in my heart for all time, critical element of my coming-out process as it has been.

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    We had the director of black womyn conversations come to our school and screen the film. It was EXCELLENT. Funny at times, sad, and taught me about self-identity.

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    I totally recommend A Jihad For Love, which is about queer people in Islam. Totally awesome and amazing – I, who was raised Muslim in an Islamic country for most of my life, learnt a hell of a lot about Islam that my school and culture never let on.

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