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We all thought 2020 was a tough year until 2021 came long and really taught us that the covid struggle is never-ending. But amongst all the loneliness, rapid tests, and eco-anxiety, several fantastic films documenting the human experience emerged. Whether you want to educate yourself on human rights, lgbtq+ issues, or the pandemic, we’ve compiled eight must-watch documentaries from the year. 

1. The First Wave 

Filmed over the first four months of the covid outbreak in the United States, The First Wave follows the hardships of nurses, doctors, and other healthcare frontline workers at Long Island Jewish Medical Centre in Queens, New York. While most of us were struggling to spend more than enough time indoors, these healthcare workers were learning about and fighting what would prove to be the next big pandemic. 

But The First Wave isn’t about defeat. Instead, it’s about strength, perseverance, and the limits of the human mind and body when the lives of others are at risk. 

2. They’re Trying to Kill Us 

The years 2020 and 2021 saw many families facing serious financial hardships. The documentary They’re Trying to Kill Us was executively produced by Chris Paul and Billie Eilish. It discusses “food access and food deserts, nutritional and environmental racism, diet-related diseases, racial disparities of disease, government corruption, animal cruelty, climate change and ultimately how the influence of Hip Hop will save the world.”

The film argues that the same food that’s killing Americans is feeding the pharmaceutical industry. It features interviews with several notable artists and medical professionals, painting a picture of the real American experience. 

3. Framing Britney Spears

Britney Spears’ story took the world by storm. Her millions of fans had no idea she was living as a prisoner to her career and public image at the hands of her father. The Emmy-nominated Framing Britney Spears details the pain the pop star endured for more than 13 years under her conservatorship. It’s the perfect example of how easy the judicial system has made taking a woman’s rights away– regardless of their financial or social status. 

4. Pray Away

This hard-hitting film details the story of five evangelicals who formed Exodus International, a group that believes in and practices conversion therapy and ‘praying the gay away.’ While Pray Away has been criticized for being a little too forgiving, it does give a voice to the victims and survivors of the group. This is a great documentary for anyone interesting in learning about the hardships lgbtq+ individuals go through in conservative Christian communities.

5. Fauci 

It’s no understatement that Dr. Anthony Fauci is the man of the hour, especially since he’s been combating the covid pandemic for the past two years. But Dr. Fauci has done far more than just fight covid, he’s also been instrumental in helping the United States through several other infectious disease crises, including AIDS and Ebola. The documentary Fauci features interviews from prolific political and business leaders such as Bill Gates and Susan Rice. 

6. Flee

Premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2021, Flee tells the story of Amin Nawabi as he escapes Afghanistan and seeks refuge in Denmark. Despite the documentary being animated, it still manages to portray the difficult and emotional refugee experience far too many people relate to. Along with being a refugee, Nawabi is also a gay man, and the documentary explores his battle with his sexuality, too. 

7. Exterminate All the Brutes

The discussion surrounding the long-term effects of colonialism is far from over. The docuseries Exterminate All the Brutes unapologetically dives into the genocide and white-washing countries and communities have had to suffer at the hands of their colonizers. It also delves into the ever-present systematic racism and oppression in the United States. The message in the docuseries is an urgent plea made in hopes of stopping history from repeating itself once more. 

8. Dying to Divorce

Dying to Divorce educates viewers on the rise of femicide in Turkey, and a group’s efforts the put violent and murdering men where they deserve to be– behind bars. It’s been nominated for and won several awards, and is a raw depiction of the domestic violence experience in Turkey. The documentary is filmed over five years and highlights how strong and persevering women have to be to protect themselves and live independently.

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