Through the past few years of social and political upheaval, documentaries have emerged as one of the best ways to understand how we've gotten to this place. The best documentaries are truly awe-inducing, introducing audiences to impressive stories from the past or new ways to understand influential public figures. 2022 is shaping up to be another year of great documentaries, including some that reexamine the legacy of public figures, and others that present a social issue from a historical lens to show how much—or how little—has changed. (Documentaries debuting at the Sundance Film Festival can be viewed via the festival's many virtual screenings.)
'Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy'
Jeen-yuhs is an inside look at prolific rapper and producer Kanye West from his earliest days. Directed by Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah, West's longtime friends and collaborators, the doc covers more than 20 years of unseen footage of West's years as a musician and entreprenur.
After a year full of Princess Diana content (including a dramatic season of The Crown and a whole stage musical), 2022 is starting off with a in-depth documentary about the People's Princess. In addition to profiling Diana, this doc will also look at how her royal life and the circumstances of her death have affected public opinions of the royal family for years.
'We Need to Talk About Cosby'
This doc from comedian and CNN host W. Kamau Bell examines the rise and fall of Bill Cosby, using archive footage and cultural and political analysis. The prescient doc covers his past as a beloved icon and star of The Cosby Show to being convicted for sexual assault.
In 1972, seven women were arrested in a raid on a Chicago apartment. The crime: running an underground network to get women safe and affordable abortions in a pre-Roe v. Wade America under the collective JANE. Premiering ahead of the Supreme Court decision on the Mississippi abortion ban, The Janes may be the most timely doc of the year.
'Lucy and Desi'
In her documentary debut, Amy Poehler directs this tribute to the professional partnership and marriage between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
'Downfall: The Case Against Boeing'
This doc follows the mysterious cases of two Boeing 737 airplanes that fell out of the sky mid-flight in late 2018, as well as the backlash following the crashes. It also reveals the concealment that occurred within the company, and the allure of Wall Street stock prices, that allowed the ultimate cause of the crashes, a faulty part, to go on the planes.
'Gaming Wall St'
Last year, a group of investors on the subreddit r/wallstreetbets took on Wall Street tycoons directly in a battle over the stock price of Game Stop. This two-part docuseries, narrated by Succession's Kieran Culkin, explains the phenomenon by interviewing some of the traders either truly believed in Game Stop as a company, or just wanted to stick it to the big banks.
'Olivia Rodrigo: driving home 2 u'
This doc follows the newly-minted Grammy winner and "Driver's License" on a road trip from Salt Lake City to LA, while also taking fans behind the scenes of the recording process for her hit debut album Sour.
'The Andy Warhol Diaries'
The Andy Warhol Diaries is an intimate look at the life of the renowned visual artist from a new angle, showing the aftermath of his attempted murder and his entry into the film industry through diary entries he wrote at the time.
'Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off'
This doc shows the personal history and legacy of the skateboarding legend, giving fans who mostly know the skater's ubiquitous brand a look at what fueled him to become a decorated athlete and pop culture icon.
'White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch'
Abercrombie & Fitch went from being the mall clothing brand of the early '00s to a former pop culture phenomenon marred by controversy. This highly-anticipated doc includes interviews from former employees, executives, and models laying out the dark side of the brand, including its problematic former CEO Mike Jeffries.
While preparing for her 2020 Super Bowl Halftime Show performance, Jennifer Lopez looks over her iconic career as a singer, actor, and all-around star, while reflecting on her personal memories throughout her life.
In this four-part docuseries, pop music icon Janet Jackson looks over the mostly-untold story of her life and career, from her singing debut alongside her famous family at age seven, to the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction that threatened her career.
'The Book of Queer'
This five-part docuseries tells the untold histories of LGBTQ+ icons and trailblazers, with star-studded retellings à la Drunk History.
'Not So Pretty'
Narrated by KeKe Palmer, this docuseries investigates health concerns in the cosmetics industry, raising awareness on the dangerous risks of some cosmetic ingredients and procedures. (Don't be surprised if you revamp your beauty routine after watching.)
'Menudo: Forever Young'
This four-part docuseries will cover the rise and fall of the global sensation Menudo, the most iconic Latin American boy band in history, and the abuse and exploitation behind the band.
'A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting'
This poignant documentary on the 2018 Pittsburgh shooting puts the lives of the victims and survivors at the forefront, showing how the resilient community moved forward after the antisemitic attack.
This Oprah Winfrey-produced documentary chronicles the life of Sidney Poitier, who broke through the racial bias of Hollywood and became the first Black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor.
'Light & Magic'
This six-part docuseries shows the story behind Industrial Light and Magic, the visual effects company behind the technological film developments used in films including the Star Wars franchise, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Jurassic Park.
Quinci LeGardye is a Contributing Culture Editor who covers TV, movies, Korean entertainment, books, and pop culture. When she isn’t writing or checking Twitter, she’s probably watching the latest K-drama or giving a concert performance in her car.
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