Best Documentaries of 2020


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Tiger King By: Morgan Reed

“We say no to drugs, cause drugs make your teeth fall out and you get really ugly and don’t have any friends.” 


Wise words from a man known for his theatrics. People remember his rise to fame in March, he was the face that helped a lot of people through the first couple of months of quarantine. He entertained thousands, opened the doors to a whole new world, but he made a lot of enemies on the way. He is the Tiger King, he is Joe Exotic. 


The hit Netflix documentary Tiger King premiered in March, just weeks after quarantine began. It followed Joe Exotic, the owner of a tiger zoo that he used for shows and to sell merchandise, and his many enemies, including Carol Baskin, who has since become the inspiration of countless jokes and trends on social media, appeared on Dancing With The Stars, and has since become the center of the mystery surrounding her husband’s death. The show was unexpected, controversial, and eye opening to most of the country that was kept in the dark from the secrets of raising big cats. It began quite innocently, following the lives of trainers and their animals, but it soon became a scandalous story of greed, abuse, and murder. 


I gave Tiger King a 3/5 for how ridiculous the cast was. I was thankful to have something as hilarious and unexpected as it to distract me from the world, but ethically, the tigers and other animals that were abused don’t deserve for the show to get a very high rating. 


The Social Dilemma  By: Pilar Melendez 

The relatively new documentary, The Social Dilemma, released on January 26th, 2020, encompasses the effects of social media on society as a whole. The documentary emphasizes the exploitation of social media users for the financial gain of multimillionaire social media companies. It touches on eerie details on how social media companies have mastered algorithms to keep you entertained and how they use this information to collect data about your life. Other topics included in this documentary are politics, mental health, data mining, and surveillance capitalism. After watching this documentary you will think twice about scrolling through Instagram or Tik Tok for hours on end. Out of five stars, I rated this a 5/5 because of its shock factor and educational aspect that this documentary offers. It’s definitely a different and unique perspective that points out the flaws in the technology that is not becoming accessible and essential to the lives of many. 

When They See Us  By: Pilar Melendez 

Back in 1989, five teenagers were wrongfully convicted of raping a woman in a case best known as the “Central Park Five”. The documentary following the case from start to finish was written and directed by Ava DuVerney, this story was brought to our screens with all its raw aspects in a four-episode season on Netflix. Although the release of “When They See Us” was released back in 2019, it became one of the most-watched series on Netflix since its release on May 31st. The series portrays the lives of the five teenagers who were wrongfully convicted in the spring of 1989 and their journeys in the prison system for 25 years until their exoneration in 2002. This series is one you cannot walk away from once you start watching it, this a solid 5/5 rating for me because the details of the this cruel story were embodied by the cast and give a real life insight to the lives of the five teenagers who were robbed of their tranquility. 

The Trials of Gabriel Hernandez By: Pilar Melendez

A shock to the system. The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is one that will linger in your thoughts for weeks after finishing it. The six-episode documentary is heart wrenching and moving. From start to finish, the documentary depicts the heinous acts that led to the tragic death of eight-year-old Gabriel Fernandez at the hands of his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre. The documentary unpacks facts, context, and legalities in a spiraling story that recounts the short and painful life of Gabriel, and raises various questions: Who failed Gabriel? Child Protection Services? His parents? Or The Sheriff’s office? This documentary delineates shortcomings in cases of Child Abuse, and explores the cause and effect of Gabriel’s death- it is a sensitive matter and an educational documentary. This is a highly recommended docu-series- 5/5 stars. 

Las Tres Muertes de Marisela Escobedo  By: Pilar Melendez 

Femicides. The deaths of women that have revolutionized a movement across the globe. The documentary, Las Tres Muertes de Marisela Escobedo, depicts the death of Marisela’s daughter, Rubi, at the hands of her boyfriend. The series of events takes place in the City of Juarez in Chihuahua, Mexico. Marisela Escobedo became an activist for women’s rights and femicides after her 16 year old daughter went missing, and was later found in a trash bin- burnt and dismembered. Authorities found a clear murderer, who was acquitted after confessing in court he had indeed murdered her daughter. The documentary follows Marisela’s 10 year crusade seeking justice for her daughter and the thousands of women that joined her revolutionary movement in Mexico. Marisela Escobedo confronted politicians from the state of Chihuahua several times causing controversy and exposing the corrupt systems of justice. The documentary directed by Carlos Pérez Osori was released on Netflix on October 14th and has since gained international attention. This documentary sheds light on an ongoing issue around the world, not just Mexico therefore, I rated this a 5/5 stars.

American Murder: The Family Next Door  By: Edith 

One of the latest and most popular documentaries on Netflix is American Murder: The Family Next Door. This documentary portrays the hearbreaking story of Chris Watts, driven to murder his wife and two daughters. On August 13th, Shannon, mother of Celeste and Bella, was reported missing by her best friend after attempting to call her and reaching her without any luck. The police immediately started their search after this report. The search began at Shannon’s home in Fredrick, Colorado. 

One of the most astonishing details of the documentary is the role of Chris Watts, and how he consecutively played the role of a grieving husband and father for the disappearance of his family. In several aspects, Chris Watts was able to fool authorities before suspicions of his affair came to light. Within the documentary, there are several pieces of evidence that tie Watts to the disappearance of his family, yet- these accusations were not taken seriously until his mistress contacted authorities. Towards the end of this already tragic story, there are gruesome details that are hard to imagine and comprehend as a viewer. The depiction of the deaths of Shannon, and her two babies, Celeste and Bella, are disturbing to say the least. 


This documentary is for those who enjoy a mystery, the way the story unfolds and presents Chris Watts as the victim- then slashes that image with the truth is a true shock and turn of events. However, the abundance of evidence pointing to a clear suspect that was ignored for far too long may cause frustration for some viewers like myself. For those reasons, this documentary earns a 4/5 stars rating. 

Unsolved Mysteries By: Kyley Fishman

There is only one thing better than a mystery. An unsolved one. 


Resurrected from the original tv show, which aired from 1987-2010, Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries offers new stories and first hand accounts to the horrors and puzzling details of individual cases, horrors and details that never fail to leave the viewer even more curious than before. Told through 12 episodes over a course of two seasons, each episode features a unique unsolved mystery. Unlike the original series, it now also features global cases due to the worldwide audience that Netflix has captured. This isn’t the only thing that makes it interesting to watch. Unlike other documentaries, where they carry a continuous story throughout the series, each episode of Unsolved Mysteries always offers new twists and turns, and is never the same. To add even more depth into the series, reenactments of the case, as well as actual footage, is used, providing the viewer an even deeper understanding and a deeper connection. One of the most interesting episodes is a reaccountment of the 2011 Typhoon Roke in Japan. It doesn’t seem like a worthy “unsolved mystery,” but once the episode begins, your mind is quickly changed. It’s definitely an interesting and different unsolved mystery. 


I would give this documentary a 3.5/5. It provides enough entertainment to keep the viewer invested, yet the reenactments and re-accounting can be a bit dry and if anything, a bit unsatisfying. The word “mystery,” and especially the word “unsolved,” give off an air of spookiness, something the documentary never provides. It does bring some chills, but if you’re wanting to watch a documentary that’ll make you hide under your blanket, this probably isn’t the documentary for you.  

Diana In Her Own Words  By: Kyley Fishman

Princess Diana has been making a major comeback in 2020, first with the newest season of the Crown, but most importantly, in the documentary, Diana in her Own Words


While the Crown provides insight into the Royal Family’s history, albeit it being a bit exaggerated and, some argue, biased, National Geographics documentary brings a deeper and more accurate insight into the life of England’s Rose, especially because it’s narrated almost primarily by Diana herself. Using footage from secret interviews, the personal and heartbreaking interviews show Diana during one of the most troubling times of her life: a time where she was constantly bombarded by the tabloids, living in a loveless marriage, and being disliked by the greatest power in England, the Royal Family itself. 


While there have already been countless documentaries, and no doubt many more future ones, about Princess Diana, this one especially stands out. While other documentaries merely provide images and voice overs, leaving no emotional connection, this documentary leaves the viewer with both chills and resentment: chills for the way Diana speaks and resentment for what she went through. I’d give this film a 5/5. It makes you feel as though you were experiencing her hardships with her, sparking emotions that other documentaries don’t always provide. It’s investing, while also personal. And just like Diana did, it doesn’t just target the head, but also the heart.

The Last Dance By: Jaymin Kanzer 

The greatest of all time finally got his respect this April when The Last Dance came out. Focused on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, the 10 episode docu-series brings first-hand insight into Jordan’s career, from the moment he was drafted in 1984 to the last championship that the Bulls have seen in ‘98. Every episode flashed forward to the ‘97 ‘98 season, or as head coach, Phil Jackson would call it “The Last Dance.” From the ‘be like Mike’ campaign to the tragic death of his father and eventual retirement from Jordan, it’s all covered in the series. There are cameos from former NBA legends like Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley and it even features the late Kobe Bryant. The cameos don’t stop there though, as Jerry Seinfeld, Justin Timberlake, Carmen Electra, and even Barack Obama, a Chicago native all make appearances in the show. The Robin to Jordans Batman, Scottie Pippen has an episode for himself, and so does ‘Rodzilla,’ Dennis Rodman. Every episode goes through a year on the Bulls with Michael Jordan and it builds up to the ‘98 season with every episode. Episode 10 focuses on the ‘98 playoffs and the finals against the Utah Jazz. It ends with a montage of MJ’s career and has a voice over from the day he got drafted talking about how he hopes he can bring a championship back to Chicago. This show has heartwarming and heartbreaking moments. It was directed to perfection, knowing exactly what to show, how to show, and when to show everything. It doesn’t feel like a documentary. Rather you get sucked into the story and you won’t be able to think about anything else until you finish it. I would give it 5 out of 5 basketballs.