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Diving Deep: 5 Netflix Social and Cultural Documentaries to Watch

Netflix has become a household name, changing how people watch TV and consume media. Their mission to keep customers engaged with the help of their algorithm, honed by constant experiments and split testing, is well-known. The push for experimentation serves to solve the “the rabbit hole problem” or having a wide array of content that users will feel lost and paralyzed. The platform has a show for everyone, no matter if you’re curious about conveyancing or the world of tiger breeding.

Documentaries are one of the prolific genres in Netflix. They make learning about history, science, and current events exciting and palatable. Here are five shows you can watch to get a glimpse of culture and society at large:

1. 100 Humans

This comedic science series, hosted by stand-up comedians Alie Ward, Zainab Johnson, and Sammy Obeid, gathers 100 people to answer pressing questions about human behavior. The volunteers or guinea pigs, as the hosts lovingly call them, come from different ages, ethnicities, and sexual orientations to serve as the representation of the United States population. They are wearing generic blue outfits with only their given number as an identifier. The show explores questions on attractiveness, peak human age, and mental biases.

2. Abstract: The Art of Design

Released as a Netflix original documentary series, Abstract: The Art of Design highlights prolific artists in the field of design encompassing different industries. The show features illustrator Christoph Niemann, automotive designer Ralph Gilles, and photographer Platon. Viewers can get a glimpse of the processes, failures, and inner workings of these designers and how they used their creativity to shape a world of their own. A second season was released last 2019, exploring the world of bio-architecture, digital products, and typefaces.

3. Explained


Produced by digital company Vox Media, Explained is a 15-minute crash course into a variety of topics that drives the world. Each episode features a guest narrator, such as Mr. Robot actor Christian Slater talking about the popularity of cryptocurrency and singer Carly Rae Jepsen exploring the world of music and rhythm. The show has also given birth to three spin-off limited series focusing on themes of the human mind, sex, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

4. Genius of the Modern World

Historian Bettany Hughes takes viewers on a deep dive into the legacy of Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud. These three thinkers are known to have influenced the modern world in their contributions to global economics, morality, and the human mind. The three-part series was published by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2016. Viewers can even learn more through this interactive timeline by the Open University.

5. History 101

History 101 is a Netflix original series aiming to deliver bite-size history lessons on famous discoveries and breakthroughs, social movements, and world-defining events. This 20-minute mini-documentary makes use of infographics and archival footage to present data and information in a visually appealing manner for the viewers. Its short duration makes for a quick explainer but becomes lacking in the depth of research about the chosen topic.

Great documentaries know how to engage the audience while still being informative. Their allure comes from using visual cues to show a universal and familiar view but impart a lesson that can be personal and intimate at the end. Social and cultural documentaries, in particular, serve as great insights into human life.

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