Three Documentaries for Your Quarantine

We went on a documentary binge at my house in February (if you can call three and a random bonus doc a binge). I enjoy documentaries, and definitely don’t watch them enough for how good they are. I remember two specific ones my siblings and I loved as kids. March of the Penguins was one; we loved the soundtrack and always felt terrible for that one penguin that left too late for migration. (RIP penguin.) Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West was the other one I particularly remember. I don’t remember many details from that one, but the panoramas of the Americas were absolutely gorgeous. We watched those two movies to death as kids, and it was nice returning to documentaries!

Confession: I started this post at the beginning of March, before the world was insane, but these are a great quaratine/social distancing idea if you’ve already rewatched all your favorite shows. Hope you and your family are staying safe!

Miss Americana

Artwork for the documentary Miss Americana. Taylor Swift in profile on a black background.

I’ll admit it unashamedly – I am a Taylor Swift fan. My sister and I used to spend hours watching classic music videos like “Love Story” and “Back to December.” I lost track of Swift’s music a bit in high school, but thankfully my college roommate was a fan so I was able to rekindle my love for her music. Swift has always struck me as very genuine, but she’s also been very private historically, not doing a lot of media appearances compared to other uber-famous musicians. Miss Americana was a really refreshing reprieve to that, and a good introduction to what seems to be a more vocal era for her. She came back into the spotlight for non-music events recently when she endorsed Phil Bredesen for Tennessee senator. This reportedly caused a spike in voter registration. As a Tennessean, and someone who cares very much about voting, I was really glad to see this (even though we ended up electing Marsha Blackburn anyway – bleh). Part of her reason for endorsing Bredesen was her support of LGBTQ+ rights, and she continued that discussion with her 2019 song “You Need to Calm Down” from her album Lover. In Miss Americana, that transparency increases even more.

I did not realize how much she has gone through in the past several years. Fame and success come with their own special set of challenges, and Swift has been knocked down by them, like any human would. Eating disorders, sexual assault, and the Scooter Braun scandal are just a few of the things she has struggled with. But she still maintains a mostly positive and determined voice in this documentary, even as she expresses dismay over the societal structure that allows these things to happen. It was fascinating to see past her shiny exterior. Miss Americana humanized her. Also, the movie was produced by a crew of all women, which is pretty dang cool, and makes sense given Swift’s strong feminist identity. If you’re even remotely interested in docs about music and/or famous people, give this a watch.

American Factory

Poster for American Factory. Worker in a hard hat in the factory.

American Factory is the story of what happened when a shut-down GM plant in Dayton, Ohio reopened under the ownership of a Chinese billionaire. This was a really fascinating movie, mixing themes about cultural clashes and class in America. The most interesting part to me was seeing how difficult it was to integrate Chinese and American management styles. Some of the American managers were sent to China on a work trip to learn some of their techniques, and it was fascinating how ingrained company loyalty is there. This was a really sad movie in some ways, but it ended on a hopeful note and was really well done.

The Pharmacist

The Pharmacist – this was absolutely incredible. It’s kind of a two-part story. The first few episodes cover how the pharmacist’s (Dan Schneider’s) son died in a drug shooting, and Schneider solved the murder himself when the police didn’t really investigate. These episodes were so sad – it’s obvious how raw the loss is even years later. The last few episodes cover Schneider investigating the very beginning of the opioid crisis in his state, after he figures out what’s going on as a result of his invesgation into his son’s murder.

Honestly, I imagine I would be annoyed by Schneider if I knew him in real life, just because he’s so driven and stubborn. But I also admire him so much. He single handedly solved his son’s murder, and then took down the epicenter of the opioid crisis in his community. He and his family are incredible people, and they definitely deserve your watch.

Bonus! What Happened to the Thalidomide Babies?

I get weird, TLC-like stuff recommended to me on YouTube, and this documentary was one of those recommendations. This is just a bonus because there are no citations or anything in the description, and I try to take everything I see like this with a grain of salt. That said, it was a really interesting watch. It details the thalidomide epidemic of the 60s and 70s, following some of the so-called “thalidomide babies” and their families throughout the aftermath of discovering the horrible side effects. This also showcases a huge hole in drug testing that still persists today – why don’t drug companies test their drugs for pregnant women? (Read Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez for much more rage-inducing information on this.)

Images from IMDB.

7 comments

  1. I will definitely have a look at these. I am a sucker for great doccies. Thanks for sharing. I find a lot of the ground-breaking documentaries never make it to the mainstream – Netflix tend to avoid the highly controversial shows

  2. My niece recommended Miss Americana and I agree that it was great. I’m a Boomer, but have always been aware of and appreciated Swift’s musical talent. I had no idea how much crap she had been putting up with and this documentary clearly shows how her other voice has emerged. Just great! Thanks for all of your suggestions! Very timely for those of us under “stay at home” orders – or any time!

  3. My wife is fairly obsessed with Taylor Swift. I’m going to recommend that for our next quarantine movie night. I’ve been watching the documentary “Cheer”. It’s six hours long and I only watch it when the weather really sucks and I wind up exercising on a spin bike rather than outside. And the past month has been amazing, so after more than a month, I’m only halfway through. But I think I’d recommend that one as well. The kids they follow are all extremely engaging (in their own way).

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