Netflix continues to expand into a giant colossus that previously might have seemed to be the greatest tool to waste time since television began. But while you might have plenty of arguments whether binge-watching shows can benefit you, Netflix has probably wanted to do something more meaningful all along. While we don’t know which charities they might support, they seem to have a plan underway to give back in a different way. By distributing original documentaries directly through the Netflix service, they’re giving a chance for the documentary to turn into the greatest social tool for enacting change.
There isn’t any doubt that the documentary form has had a renaissance in the last decade. Some might want to give people like Michael Moore credit for getting controversial social documentaries a chance to be widely seen and incite impassioned arguments. Even if some documentaries have reached that stage, other even more brilliant documentaries have been made since that didn’t receive the same distribution or audiences.
The problem behind that is the usual oversaturation of specific genres when there’s a chance at least a few of them could succeed at the box office. Nowadays, though, the only documentaries that make tremendous money in theaters are ones with the name Morgan Spurlock. We should never knock Spurlock, however, because he’s the perfect example of the documentary that incites people to take care of a problem in our culture that should have been corrected decades ago. This isn’t to say other documentarians aren’t doing the same while having very little distribution to bring any profit.
Netflix frequently acquires these documentaries so they can finally grab a targeted audience. How much money they make there isn’t known, though Netflix organizes them all into a specific documentaries category based on the idea that people still want to see compelling documentaries. It’s no surprise then why Netflix wants to produce and distribute them on their own with likely better marketing on social media so they can be discovered.
When you see the first slate of Netflix documentaries, you have to wonder if they’ll deal with issues movie house documentaries usually don’t get to. It may shift the tide toward documentaries slipping out of theaters and making a bigger difference being made directly for online or Netflix format.
Documentaries as Calls to Action
Other than docus that chronicle a notable person’s life, ones taking on the most vital issues of our time are quite diffuse. One of the issue documentaries Netflix will be producing is called “E-Team” that deals with the much-neglected subject of human rights workers. It may be just the beginning of Netflix producing issue documentaries, despite the rest of their immediate slate being historical documentaries or detailing technology. In the latter case, “Print the Legend” will look at 3D printing and could be technically labeled an issue documentary based on how 3D printing is going to change all of our lives soon.
The documentary may have found its best home of all on Netflix because of the convenience of watching them on the go. And when a documentary touching on an issue is watched when we’re more active, it could psychologically inspire immediate action toward perhaps changing something. Imagine if some people watched Morgan Spurlock’s documentaries on fast food while out and about. On the way home, they’d be more apt to skip the fast food than they would if they’d watched the documentary at home days earlier.
We know it’s just the beginning, but we can only hope Netflix takes on some of the most pressing issues facing us that could be solved with more action from citizens. With their apparent penchant for talking about technology as a social issue, a documentary about drones would get more people thinking about drone implications than anyone is really talking about right now. It also doesn’t hurt to do more and updated documentaries on obesity since the problem fluctuates monthly.
This all gives Netflix social value that they’d previously been lacking as just an entertainment plaything. When we start seeing tweets on Twitter about everyone binge-watching Netflix documentaries, we know there’s a more realistic chance of things changing for the better.