Becoming an informed global citizen while having fun watching documentary films

As the myriad of red, orange, and yellow leaves begin to fall, we welcome the fall season with open arms as we bundle up inside with a hot cup of cocoa and marathon our favourite shows. But if you’re like me and you’ve grown tired of watching the same reruns of Grey’s Anatomy or Friends, I’ve got a few suggestions of how you can spark up your must watch list.

When I used to hear the word “documentary” it took me back to my ninth grade social studies class, where I sat through many hours of Napoleon Bonaparte conquering the Europe. However, I recently rediscovered the documentary film genre as something exciting, relevant, and engaging for people of all ages. Documentaries matter and we should all consider giving them a shot because they’re not always a snooze fest! Rather, they give us insight on global issues and often leave us feeling inspired to work together to combat injustices.  Below is a list of my top three empowering and informative documentary films.


  1. Girl Rising (2013)

This riveting film by Richard Robbins follows the lives of nine girls from Cambodia, Haiti, Nepal, Ethiopia, Peru, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan as they struggle to gain a voice, an education and ultimately, freedom in their home countries. Girl Rising exemplifies a universal truth: educating girls creates a safer, healthier, and more prosperous world for everyone. The film pairs the protagonists with novelists, journalists, and screenwriters from their own countries to help tell the girls’ stories in their own words.

Here are some truths to think about from the film:

  •    More than 66 million girls across the globe are kept out of school.
  •    A child born to a literate mother is 50% more likely to survive beyond age five, and educated mothers are more than twice as likely to send their children (boys and girls) to school.
  •    14 million girls under the age of eighteen will be married this year, and girls with eight years of education are four times less likely to be married as children.
  •    A girl with one extra year of education can earn at least 20% more as an adult.

See the trailer here.

Click here to learn more about how you can take action.


    2. Blackfish (2013)

This highly chilling documentary by Gabriela Cowperthwaite retells the story of Tilikum, a killer whale captured for SeaWorld. The film intersects the problems that arise with romanticizing the sea-park entertainment industry. Blackfish demonstrates the strenuous conditions that captive orcas face as they are forced to perform for amused spectators. Over the years, the dire circumstances of orca containment have led to tragic incidents that claimed the lives of several people. According to a recent article, SeaWorld lost $25.4 million in revenue after park attendance dropped due to the “Blackfish effect.”

Since the release of Blackfish:

  • SeaWorld has battled negative publicity linked to the deaths of several trainers
  • Yearly attendance at the company’s eleven parks declined by over 100,000 people
  • A beluga whale named Nanuq–who was on loan to SeaWorld–died after fracturing his jaw during an ‘interaction’ with two other whales

Click here for the trailer:

Click here to learn more about how you can take action.


  1. Miss Representation (2011)

This documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom connects the media’s degrading portrayal of women to the unequal number of women in positions of power. Miss Representation presents the over-sexualization of females in mainstream media in contrast to empowering images of women in leadership positions. In the documentary, young women admit that the lack of positive, empowering representations of girls and women in the media, create unrealistic ideals for what it means to be successful. Success for women in the media is often defined by one’s beauty and fame, opposed to the intellectual achievements of girls and women in positions of power. (Editors note: Check Your Head features a clip from this film in our Gender in the Media workshop).

Miss Representation reveals that:

  • 53% of thirteen year old girls are unhappy with their bodies; that number increases to 78% by age seventeen.
  • Women in USA spent $12,000 to $15,000 a year on beauty products and salon services
  • The number of cosmetic surgical procedures performed on youth under age nineteen has tripled from 1997 to 2007
  • Women make up 51% of the US population and yet women comprise only 20% of Congress
  • 71 countries in the world have been led by female heads of state or government, but the US is not one of them.

Check out the trailer here.

Click here to learn more about how you can take action.


By Therise Lee