The 12 Best Social Justice Documentaries (Ranked in 2024)

Here’s my list of the top social justice documentaries.

I’m focusing on docs that dig into inequalities faced by individuals based on such things as race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, culture, and disability.

I rank them based on two things: 1) watchability (do I binge-watch right through it?) and 2) how shareability (i.e. you’d tell a friend or family member about it).

Here ya go!

1) Making a Murderer

“Making a Murderer” is my top pick for best social justice doc.

It’s an easy pick.

It’s the story of Steven Avery, a guy who’s been through the wringer not once, but twice.

First, wrongfully convicted, then exonerated, only to be thrown back into the pit for a murder charge.

“Making a Murderer” is like watching a car crash in slow motion—you can’t look away, and you’re not sure you want to.

The series puts a spotlight on the flaws of the criminal justice system (in this case in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin):

Wrongful conviction? Check.

Police misconduct? Check.

Flawed forensic science? Check

Avery seems to have had the cops and courts boning his life at every turn.

And if you get sucked into”Making a Murderer” as much as I did, you’re in for a treat. There are 20 episodes (2 seasons) of about an hour each — 20 hours in all!

You can stream “Making a Murderer” on Netflix at

2) The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing (2012) is a surreal spectacle — murderers dressing up and playing themselves, somehow both bragging about their deeds while confronting the reality of their actions.

Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer and Christine Cynn, it’s a dive into the minds of Indonesian death squad leaders who gleefully reenact their mass killings.

Yeah, you read that right.

It’s as if someone gave the worst people imaginable a camcorder and said, “Go nuts, fellas.”

The sheer audacity of Oppenheimer to not just confront these killers with their past but to ask them to stage it?

It’s where horror and absurdity dance a macabre tango.

You’ll be asking: “Are these guys for real?”

The social justice angle is that leaders of death squads not only evaded justice but are celebrated (in some corners) for their actions (and many remain free).

The doc touches on themes of social inequality — it suggests the brutality towards accused communists and left-wing sympathizers was disproportionately aimed at poorer rural classes.

Power dynamics allowed both military figures and gangster paramilitary groups to terrorize everyday citizens without repercussion.

Overall, “The Act of Killing” (122 minutes) it’s a failure of legal and societal systems to hold perpetrators accountable, a core concern of social justice movements worldwide.

Watch “The Act of Killing” for free on Hoopla (with library or university ID) and for free (with ads on Freevee, Plex, Filmzie and Peacock (if you’re a subscriber). You can rent it for $ on Apple TV, Amazon, Microsoft, Redbox et al. Check here for the latest streaming options:

3) 13th

Ava DuVernay’s 2016 “slam dunk of a documentary”13th” doc schools us on the 13th Amendment and how it morphed into a loophole wider than the Grand Canyon.

It’s how the 13th Amendment allows the continuation of slavery by another name.

It’s “Bowling for Columbine” meets criminal justice reform.

Ever heard of ALEC?

They draft laws… and not in our favor.

Branded prisons profit from… well, us.

Great scene on Nixon’s war on drugs. I mean… come on, Dick!

“13th” shows America its true reflection: zits and all. We’re an amazing country…but we still got some major problems.

Watch this doc on Netflix at or for free on YouTube here:

Thanks to Brian Savelson for the early tip to watch “13th”.

Note: I rank “13th” #2 on my list of “Best Documentaries About Prison”.

4) Blackfish

Hold your seahorses folks! You’re about to learn the secrets of Shamu.

The eyebrow-raising 2013 documentary “Blackfish” follows the tragic tale of SeaWorld’s 12,000 pound headliner Tilikum, an orca snagged from the ocean back in 1983 when he was just a 2-year-old tyke.

Through some heart-wrenching interviews and chilling footage, this film makes the convincing case that separating orcas like Tilikum from their pods in the wild to perform circus tricks daily leads to some severely stir-crazy whales.

Directed by John Hargrove, it clocks in at a swift 98 minutes

We see poor ole Tilikum act out via three grisly human deaths over the years.

Can’t say I’d be a happy camper either if I lived over half my life alone in the equivalent of a blasted bathtub!

“Blackfish” delivers the goods on everything from trainer coverups to profit-hungry execs pushing animal ethics aside.

After watching these chilling scenes, you’ll definitely be less inclined to pony up and swim with Shamu yourself during your next visit!

But before storming SeaWorld with #FreeTheOrcas protest signs, check the news first—this blockbuster doc created such a tsunami of outrage that SeaWorld’s already revamping its orca shows into something hearts, tourists, and thirty-foot whales can enjoy with clear consciences!

What does this all have to do with social justice?

Well, this shift in narrative, known as the “Blackfish effect,” exemplifies how a documentary can spark social change by exposing corporate practices that raise ethical concerns.

Whale done, Blackfish. You are making the (sea) world a better place.

Environmental justice, baby!

Watch “Blackfish” for free on Kanopy and Hoopla (with library card/school ID). It’s also streaming on Fubo , Tubi and Plex. Check here for the latest streaming options:

Thanks to Mary Bliss for the early tip on this doc.

5) I Am Not Your Negro

I queued up this I Am Not Your Negro doc expecting some cinematic civil rights slam dunks.

But legendary wordsmith James Baldwin and director Raoul Peck had way more ambitious plans – like dunking me into the deep end of America’s sea of societal sins!

This 94-minute mashup of Baldwin’s unfinished manuscripts is a knockout commentary on oppression, racism and the national psyche.

Peck spotlights early sit-ins, Malcolm X’s stirring oratories, the cultural contributions of trailblazing athletes and more.

Giving visibility to marginalized voices? Now that’s a social justice assist!

But the film also highlights the glacial-paced progress since the 60s.

The same racial profiling, police violence and prejudice African Americans endured back in Baldwin’s day continues now. I couldn’t help but wince seeing 21st century civil rights jump shots from Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter spliced alongside young Baldwin’s words.

Sheesh—feels like we’re stuck in a frustrating time loop!

Time to pass some social justice legislation already!

Watch “I Am Not Your Negro” for free on Kanopy (with library card/school ID); free on Tubi, Vudu and Peacock (with ads) and on Prime Video (with subscription). You can also rent it at a bunch of streaming sites. Check for the latest streaming options.

6) The Invisible War

“When I heard about “Invisible War” (thanks, Ananya Khanduri of Gizmo Story), I braced for some hard-hitting combat action.

Maybe a few stirring stories of valor and sacrifice from frontline troops.

But director Kirby Dick had much heavier weights to throw around in this Oscar-nominated 2012 film—namely some explosive charges against the U.S. Armed Forces’ handling of sexual assault. Yowza!

Dick interrogates the epidemic of rape within military ranks, letting the troops intimately affected by the violence speak their gritty truths.

And it sure ain’t pretty, folks.

Victims ranging from male to female share their journeys from excited recruit to traumatized survivor.

Their accounts of being attacked by fellow soldiers while commanders dismiss and cover up are more brutal than any war wounds.

And talk about an injustice!

The film exposes a massively flawed system that not only fails to protect enlisted folks from harm within its own barracks but actively punishes victims who report assaults.

But the biggest blackeye is that the top brass continues to champion outdated protocols over protecting its own.

The doc indicates reform only comes slowly.

Tha seems to be thanks to unrelenting pressure from righteous folks like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

So hats off to the filmmaker for capturing these survivors’ painful stories with compassion and spotlighting the military’s major morals misconduct!

The Invisible War packs a social justice punch by giving a voice to helpless folks failed by the powers above them.

Watch “The Invisible War” on Prime Video, PlutTV and Freevee (with ads) and FlixFling (with subscription). Check for the latest streaming options.

7) Time: The Kalief Browder Story

When I first heard about “Time: The Kalief Browder Story” doscuseries on Netflix, I expected a little riveting true crime drama at best.

Maybe a gritty prison break reenactment or tense showdown behind bars.

But this critically acclaimed 2017 six-part docuseries delivered a brutal haymaker about criminal injustice that no Hollywood screenwriter could ever throw.

It chronicles the tragic odyssey of Bronx teen Kalief Browder, banged up in Rikers Island in New York City (a bad, bad place) for 3 emotionally-eviscerating years.

And that without conviction after a petty theft accusation!

I’m surprised Bob Dylan didn’t write a song on this!

And hoo boy, does this series spotlight the vital need for criminal justice reform!

Watching Browder withstand beatings from crooked cops and endless stay in solitary?

Where’s the regard for basic human rights behind those cold steel bars?


I rank “Time: The Kalief Browder Story” #1 on my list of “Best Documentaries About Prison”.

Driven to despair after two wasted years awaiting an impossible fair trial, Browder tragically takes his own life at 22 years old.

And the institutions who locked away his youth without due process or mental health support have blood on their hands too as far as I’m concerned!

What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

This case makes you wanna slap cuffs on every unchecked authority figure abusing their power on society’s vulnerable classes.

Watch this doc on Netflix at If it leaves Netflix (it doesn’t look like it’s a “Netflix Original” so if leaves Netflix, check for where it’s streaming.

8) The Central Park Five

I put on this eye-opening 2012 documentary “The Central Park Five” expecting, at best, a gritty reenactment of an infamous NYC case with some hardboiled detectives hot on the trail of truth.

But holy Toledo—this Ken Burns tackled racial bias, coerced confessions and lives unjustly shattered.


This nearly two-hour doc re-examines the sensationalized 1989 “Central Park Jogger” case.

It’s the story of five wrongfully convicted African American and Latino teens who were railroaded by the powers that be into confessing to the brutal rape of a white investment banker.

Warning: you will likely get upset over the vile interrogation practices used to extract false admissions from these scared 14-16 year olds!

And the injustice only begins there.

Despite zero evidence backing it up, the court of public opinion fueled by tabloid media hubbub in a racially divided NYC had already sentenced these boys as heartless “wolfpack” sex predators.

So much for fair trials protecting the innocent, am I right?

In the end, the wrongly incarcerated young men lost hard-earned freedoms for a combined 40 years before eventual exoneration.

Meanwhile the real rapist roamed free to later admit sole guilt!

If this fiasco doesn’t have you demanding #justice now for vulnerable groups targeted by authorities drunk on power, I don’t know what will.

Watch “The Central Park Five” for free on Kanopy or Hoopla (both require a library card or student ID). You can also rent it for $ on Apple TV, YouTube et al. Check here for the latest streaming options:

9) Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution

This 2020 Sundance smash delivers a rallying cry for equality that packs way more political punch than I ever imagined.

“Crip Camp” chronicles how an experimental Catskills camp for teens with disabilities in the early 1970s ignited a civil rights movement.

Through never-before-seen archival footage and present-day interviews, we witness campers enjoying a utopia of acceptance during the summer.

It’s far from the discrimination and marginalization of mainstream society.

Power to the people!

These revved-up youths leave with confidence and passion to fight for accessibility, independence and opportunity year-round.

And would you believe it—their efforts spearhead groundbreaking legislation like the American Disabilities Act!

Can I get a woo-hoo for grassroots advocacy creating seismic societal change!

By spotlighting this unknown revolution, “Crip Camp” issues a challenge to empower all who lack visibility and continue knocking down barriers.

It rallies everyone to imagine an inclusive world where true equality reigns supreme. Sign me and my wheelchair right up to join their still-unfinished mission towards justice for all!

So cue up this sports fan’s new favorite underdog documentary, folks.

“Crip Camp” stokes inspiration to advocate for the marginalized among us however we can.

I’ll certainly think twice now before making assumptions or jokes that further sideline vulnerable voices.

Game on for elevating humanity!

Watch “Crip Camp” for free on YouTube at or on Netflix at

10) The Thin Blue Line

What a classic.

Oscar-winning director Errol Morris shocks the justice system with this 1988 doc.

“The Thin Blue Line” exposes the corrupt inner workings of law and order like a dirty bomb!

The doc scrutinizes the 1976 Dallas murder of a police officer and conviction of drifter Randall Adams, who claimed judicial funny business framed him for a crime he didn’t commit.

Through stylish reenactments and proof the prosecution fabricated witness testimonies, Morris makes an ironclad case for Adams’ innocence.

Yet the courts continued denying appeals for years based on legal technicalities and saving face over righting wrongs.

Talk about justice gone awry!

But social justice prevails in the end!

The doc catalyzed so much public outcry that Adams’ conviction got overturned just a year later.

“The Thin Blue Line” spotlights civic duty to question authority and speak truth to power.

Can’t let the justice system conveniently cut constitutional corners when people’s lives hang in the balance.

Watch “The Thin Blue Line” for free (with ads) on Daily Motion at You can also subscribe to it on AMC+ or The Criterion Channel or pay for renting it on Apple TV, Amazon, YouTube et al. Check here for the latest options:

11) Ethnic Notions

“Ethnic Notions” by Marlon Riggs unpacks some seriously sinister baggage from this country’s discriminatory past.

We ain’t talking feel-good Ken Burns material here!

Through 57 minutes of shocking archival media images and accounts, “Ethnic Notions” chronicles the racist stereotypes white society perpetuated about African Americans — for more than 100 years!They’re Trying to Kill Us

Riggs argues these demeaning caricatures in pop culture didn’t just reflect existing bigotry—they helped justify oppression right up to today.

By tracing this provocative history of “otherness”, Riggs spotlights the fake cultural lenses still coloring how African Americans fight for equal rights and representation.

Can I get an amen for exposing the roots of modern systemic biases?

It’s a hardcore refresher course on America’s ethical blind spots for sure!

Watch “Ethnic Notions” for free on Kanopy (with library card/student ID) or on OVID with subscription. Check for the latest streaming options.

12) They’re Trying to Kill Us

NBA star Chris Paul and music sensation Billie Eilish?

They back co-director John Lewis who’s crisscrossing the States, digging into a big question: why do people of color face way higher rates of chronic disease compared to white folks?

The 2021 doc (at 1 hr 43 min) doesn’t shy away from tough topics, like the mix of food, disease, race, poverty, and all the ugly stuff like institutional racism and government greed.

John chats with all sorts of folks for this—big names in culture, health experts, politicians, lawyers, athletes, and those fighting for food justice.

They include:

  • Cedric The Entertainer: Comedian and actor, well-known for his roles in film and television.
  • Dame Dash: Entrepreneur and music mogul, co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records.
  • Ne-Yo: Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and record producer.
  • MYA: Grammy Award-winning singer, actress, and philanthropist.
  • Angela Yee: Radio personality on the nationally syndicated show The Breakfast Club.
  • John Salley: Retired NBA player, talk show host, and actor.
  • Eric Adams: Mayor of New York City, former Brooklyn Borough President, and retired police officer.

Director John Lewis pieces together this crazy puzzle to make the case that some big players are making a fortune by keeping millions of Americans sick.

The story’s super personal for John.

He’s telling it all—his start in life with a mom battling addiction, his childhood struggles with weight in Ferguson, to his total 180 as a health and wellness guru pushing for kindness and change.

And man, the lineup of voices in this thing is wild.

It’s about how messed-up incentives trap marginalized folks in a cycle of illness.

The doc dives deep into the ethics of food, not just for us (food deserts) but for animals too.

Watch “They’re Trying to Kill Us” for free on YouTube at or on Tubi (with ads) at Check for the latest streaming options.

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac, Daily Doc