By Madina Safdari
It goes without saying: documentaries are a way for independent artists to voice their concerns over issues that they think are pertinent. This concept is not new. However, what has changed is the increase in interest and access to documentaries that fuel modern activism.
In the contemporary age of entertainment, Netflix and Hulu are the main patrons for documentaries, collectively streaming hundreds of them. This means whether or not someone is going to watch a documentary, they are more likely to be exposed to one on these sites than they would on regularly scheduled television.
Even though the number of people who watch documentaries is less than mainstream film, documentaries are steadily increasing in popularity. According to the director of the Cannes Film Market, Jerome Paillard, documentaries accounted for 16 percent of their entries in 2013 in comparison to the eight percent five years prior. And in America it is no different. According to the online statistics source, Statista, the number of TV viewers of documentaries in the US went from around 70 million in 2008 to 93 million in 2016.
The overall instigator of this recent surge in the popularity of documentaries would be the film “Blackfish,” watched by many on Netflix. The documentary focuses on killer whales in captivity but is paired with thrilling scenes and intense anecdotes and evidence. All these components made for an enthralling documentary that was not only thorough, but also extremely powerful in inspiring its audience.
After “Blackfish,” its audience of nearly 21 million people, according to CNN, had a gripe with the industry that capitalized off animal captivity. However, once again this concept is not new, it is simply reaching a larger audience and leading to a more effective and widespread outcome.
Blackfish’s predecessor, “Supersize Me,” had similar effects on the public. The documentary was a giant experiment in which director Morgan Spurlock ate McDonald’s three times a day in order to expose the unhealthy effects of fast food.
The entertainment aspect is definitely present, but whether or not “Supersize Me” was able to instigate real change within its viewers is uncertain. However, that documentary still sparked conversation, ultimately raising awareness on health issues in America.
Popular genres that documentaries tend to focus on are the environment, social justice, health, and education.
Recently, the Netflix documentary “13th” gained attention for discussing the implications of the 13th amendment and how concepts of slavery have evolved throughout American history, manifesting in the current criminal justice system.
Alongside “13th” is the Academy Award winning documentary “White Helmets” that still continues to educate and raise awareness about the atrocities of war in Syria. In addition, documentaries like “Before the Flood” and “Food Inc.,” with environmental concerns, all manage to educate the masses while maintain the use of extremities to promote progress.
Documentaries are a way for people to share information in away that is entertaining and captivating. The emergence of new documentaries that reflect on current situations and provide commentary on the world around us are more pertinent and necessary than ever. The only thing that has changed is the amount of people listening and paying attention.